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Monday News: Brashear reclaims helm at Samhain, a tale of digital...

Christina Brashear Returns as Samhain Publisher – This is pretty interesting. Brashear, who went from Publisher to President of Samhain in 2012, is back as Publisher, with a promise to “return” Samhain “to its roots.” Lindsey Faber is not only stepping down as Publisher, but leaving Samhain entirely (there’s something about her serving as a consultant to the company. Hmm.). If you remember, there were recently some apparent issues with contract terms for Samhain authors. Brashear claims the following deals are in process:

17-audiobook deal with feminist icon Susie Bright at Audible
4-audiobook deal with Insatiable
Front-list Samhain titles will now be available on the industry review site NetGalley
A newly revamped and designed website will launch this summer
Samhain will sponsor the Horror Writers of America/Bram Stoker Awards in 2015
The company will embark on aggressive mainstream commercial advertising, starting with the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine

Says Brashear, “As part of this reorganization, Samhain will be returning to its roots of finding and publishing best-selling romance writers. The careers of New York Times best-selling authors like Maya Banks and Lorelei James started at Samhain nearly a decade ago. Now that I’m back at the helm, I’ll continue to nurture and support our current authors while looking to find that next generation of best-selling writers to take their work to the next level and continue to do what Samhain does best.” –PR Web

I Was a Digital Best Seller! – Tony Horwitz chronicles his foray into digital publishing. These stories tend to trigger all sorts of defensive rebuttals from self and digital publishing gurus and other advocates, but I think they serve as a very real, and very true reminder that a) the market is heavily impacted with self-published and digitally published authors, b) authors are doing more and more marketing of their own books, and if they serve as publisher as well as author, they’re likely doing most to all of it, and c) the term “bestseller” doesn’t necessarily translate to tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. Also, note the unsavory reference to “gaming the system” via friends and family reviews. *sigh*

Eager to know how many copies this represented, I asked Byliner for sales figures. It took them a while to respond — because, I imagined, they needed the time to tally the dizzying numbers pouring in from Amazon, iTunes and other retailers. In fact, the total was such that Byliner could offer only a “guesstimate.” In its first month “Boom” had sold “somewhere between 700 and 800 copies,” the email read, adding, “these things can take time to build, and this is the kind of story with a potentially very long tail.”

It was also the kind of story that could bankrupt a writer. I’d now devoted five months to writing and peddling “Boom” and wasn’t even halfway to earning out my $2,000 advance (less than the overrun on my travel). The cruelest joke, though, was that 700 to 800 copies made “Boom” a top-rated seller. What did that mean for all the titles lower down the list? Were they selling at all? –New York Times

The Unlikely Story of The Pavement Bookworm – Tebogo Malope, a South Africa cinematographer, recently filmed an interview with Philani, a 24-year old homeless man from Johannesburg who raises money through his love of books and his own literary literacy. The poignancy of this story hits on multiple levels, from its own social justice foundations to the personal inspiration Philani represents in a country (and within a continent) where basic literacy is still such a concern.

Philani is a bookworm who has chosen to review and sell books rather than resort to begging. He shows up on different streets of Johannesburg with a pile of books, and on request he will review the books, the authors, the publishers.

“He has read all the books in his collection and is always seeking for more to read,” says Tebogo. “He then sells some of his books as a way to raise money for himself and some of his homeless friends. I’m appealing to anyone that can contribute somehow into his life.

“He’s a great role model on the power of reading and can be an amazing ambassador for our young people.” –South Africa People

Amanda Palmer on the Art of Asking and the Shared Dignity of Giving and Receiving – In the wake of Tesla’s announcement that it was basically dumping its patents and throwing in with open source technology, I was thinking about the unremitting cries of piracy in the reading communities, and the equally persistent claims that readers somehow have a responsibility to make sure authors have food to put on the table, take care of their children, dogs, etc., etc. Which got me thinking about this interesting TED talk from musician Amanda Palmer, who, among other things, left her own music label and crowd sourced her next album. While her technique is pretty extreme, I think her philosophy is both sound and inspiring.

Palmer talks extensively about the concept of fair exchange between artists and their fans, and she does it in a way that emphasizes the difference between entitlement (on either side) and voluntary exchange. By focusing on the second, she reinforces what many have asserted about all the anti-piracy measures and talk, namely that it often gets in the way of what is a more “natural” circumstance — specifically that people *want* to pay for creative products, and when given the opportunity outside an environment of suspicion, demand, and control, that they will do so generously and voluntarily.

“I don’t see these things as risks — I see them as trust. … But the perfect tools can’t help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly — but, more importantly, to ask without shame. … When we really see each other, we want to help each other. I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?’ –Brain Pickings

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

12 Comments

  1. Evangeline
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 05:39:41

    The Samhain news is fascinating. The self-pub/trad pub conversation always ignores the e-publishing market and its deep history (particularly in the romance genre), and it will be interesting to see how the top e-pubs will reignite the strength of their brands.

  2. Ros
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 06:15:32

    Tony Horwitz got paid $17,000 plus expenses to write a 100 page book. I admit, I am struggling to feel sorry for him.

  3. Jinni
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 08:13:24

    @Evangeline: I agree. I think the true tension is between self/epub. A lot of authors are asking whether epubs can do better than they can do on their own. The answer used to be yes, I think. Now, who knows?

  4. Isobel Carr
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 09:01:25

    @Ros: Yea, the Horwitz article could be titled “I Did Absolutely Everything Wrong and Still Got Paid $17K!”.

  5. susan
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 09:53:36

    Amanda Palmer was the focus of quite a bit of controversy after her very successful Kickstarter campaign. There were a number of issues but the crux of it was that after making all that money on Kickstarter, when she went on tour with her band, she asked on her blog for other musicians to volunteer to play for beer, hugs, and merchandise (ie no pay) to fill out her band. Needless to say this did not sit well with many in the music community. The Guardian article explains it all pretty well: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/22/amanda-palmer-visionary-egotist-interview

  6. Sunita
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 10:41:54

    @Ros: I don’t think he wants you to feel sorry for him. He probably got as much as he did because he’s an award-winning journalist and a well-known writer of very good nonfiction books. The advance he was promised was not at all out of line for non-fiction work. He spent a month doing field research and then several months writing the book (which may be 100 pages, but it’s also 40,000 words, which is a category-length novel).

    I read this as a cautionary tale, not a woe-is-me tale. Maybe he was stupid to go with The Global Mail, but Byliner made a huge splash when it premiered and there seemed to be surprise when it recently announced it was folding. If someone with his reputation (Pulitzer-prize winner, NYT & WSJ reporter), backlist, and connections can wind up losing and having his work disappear, how bad is it for young writers today (as he directly asks toward the end of the article)?

  7. Ros
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:15:26

    @Sunita: Maybe I misread the tone then. I did think it was a bit about how awful it was to have less than 1000 copies sold, rather than the 75,000 that had optimistically been mentioned. And how it ought to be possible for writers to have a career doing this sort of book like in the Good Old Days. But you’re right, there’s other stuff in there which is more about the pitfalls of working with start-up digital presses.

  8. Ros
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:21:06

    @susan: There was controversy and I admit, I didn’t like the way Palmer handled things at all. But a good friend of mine is a huge Palmer fan and when I asked her about it, she didn’t think that anyone who had backed the Kickstarter project as a fan of Palmer would have felt aggrieved by that. I think if you buy into her philosophy (which presumably, people who are giving her Kickstarter money do) it has an internal consistency with everything she does. The way that Palmer makes her life, her philosophy and her art all part of the same thing is fascinating to me, even though I don’t agree with or like much of it. But I can see that if you are a fan of her music, say, you probably are a fan of her and her philosophy too.

  9. Sunita
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 13:13:12

    @Ros: It seems as if a lot of people on the digital side have read it as an anti-digital rant, and he does say he’s going back to the old system after this experience, which encourages that view. But I think it was meant to be more self-deprecating than critics have interpreted it as being, especially given the way he writes (his book on Cook’s voyages is subtitled “Boldly Going Where Cook Has Gone Before”).

    I’m pretty surprised it didn’t sell better, to be honest. He’s a major non-fiction writer and he was writing about the Keystone pipeline right when it was all over the news. You’d think Byliner would have wanted to publicize it, especially since they were out so little up-front money. Then again, the fact that they pulled it from distribution and then put it back tells you that they didn’t exactly have their act together.

  10. Kaetrin
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 01:38:18

    It’s interesting what Tony Horwitz was saying about the future of long form nonfiction. Since I’ve been listening to audiobooks, I’ve found myself taking in more nonfiction books than ever before. That’s not a huge amount but it’s up from basically none. Maybe I’m an exception but I don’t think long form fiction or non fiction is dying – it maybe though that we are changing the ways we consume it? I can’t sit and read a long nonfiction book (partly this is because my romance TBR looks at my sulkily but partly it’s because I’m really after romance when I’m reading a print/digital book) but I can happily listen to one while I’m doing other things and the more I do, the more interested I am in doing it more. I can be more adventurous on audio for some reason.

  11. Courtney Milan
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 08:28:11

    The other part of the complaint about the sales of that book–that they weren’t very good despite the fact that he was #1 in the “Page-Turning Narrative” category–is just pure ignorance, and yet I hear it all the time. “I was #1 in Non-Fiction > Meat Packing Exposés > Exotic Meats > Yeti, but I only sold 4 copies!”

    Can these people who are otherwise intelligent not figure out how to look at their rank in the overall Amazon store? There were multiple tools available to him so that he could have a realistic outlook on what it meant to be #1 in Exotic Meats > Yeti > Page-Turning Narrative. Instead, he seems to be outraged that big fish sometimes inhabit little ponds. It doesn’t mean that nobody sells books on Amazon or that books are going to die or even that long-form journalism is DOA in digital. You misinterpreted the data, and rather than asking how you and your publishers can change and improve, you’re demanding that the data change instead.

  12. susan
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 09:47:13

    @Ros, although I am not a particular fan of Amanda Palmer’s I think she is an intriguing performer with an interesting take on the world. I don’t begrudge her success on Kickstarter either. The problem for me is more personal–I am married to a musician who barely makes money. He is more than glad to donate his performance time or take a lower fee for gigs that benefit the local community or some organization. But when a well-known musician says “come play with me” and he or she is getting paid but is not even willing to pay gas money, in my opinion that is over the line. If Palmer wants extra musicians she should at least be willing to take money out of her pocket and fill their gas tanks.

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