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Tuesday Midday Links: Agents, the unseen gatekeeper to reading

Agents are far more powerful in publishing than many readers understand.  They are the ones negotiating contracts with the publishers and can doom or help an author.  They are the ones telling authors that x isn’t selling and y isn’t selling.  They are the unseen gatekeepers that rarely get mentioned.  But the fact is much of what we see published today is what an agent thinks is saleable, not what editors think is saleable, but what agents have decided can be sold. DRM, I’m told, is something agents want.  Geographical restrictions is another thing agents push.

If you wonder why there aren’t people of color, GLBT people, in books?  Maybe look to the agents.  Here is a chilling piece at Genreville about two well known authors being shot down by agent after agent for having a gay lead.  It is a must read.

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Author’s Guild has turned into a plaintiff’s class action.  The Google Settlement is dead in the water and the AG must decide, along with the other plaintiffs, whether they are going to pursue a costly litigation that may end unfavorably toward them.  They can’t really dismiss the petition and so they’ve doubled down on spending their authors’ dues on more litigation but this time against research institutions.  (I had no idea that the AG was so flush!)  Yesterday, AG and a few others, filed suit against the Hathi Trust. (PDF of Petition) Essentially the Hathi Trust is a partnership of educational institutions that are combining resources to digitize the various institutions different libraries.  AG views this as a (and this is a direct quote from the petition) “potentially catastrophic, widespread dissemination of those millions of works in derogation of the statutorily-defined framework governing library books.”

Part of the AG’s complaint is that the HathiTrust did not digitize these books themselves, but “ingested” the digitized books from Google. The thrust of that argument, I suppose, is that someone cannot profit from the fruit of the poisonous tree. Google being the poisonous tree. Another argument that the AG is making is that in the process of running the trust, several digital copies are made.

Upon information and belief, HathiTrust’s storage architecture employs two synchronized instances of server farms (each including at least two web servers, a database server and a storage cluster), with the primary site located at UM’s Ann Arbor, Michigan campus where ingestion occurs, and a redundant mirror site located at IU’s Indianapolis campus. HathiTrust also routinely creates tape backups of all data contained in the HDL. The tapes are stored at a different facility on UM’s campus and, upon information and belief, these tapes are replicated and the copies are stored at yet another facility on UM’s campus. Thus, once a University distributes a digital object to the HDL, at least eight digital copies of the work (four image files, four digital-text OCR files) are generated.

Think about this. Every time you back up your files, either to an SD card or to dropbox, AG is arguing you are making an unauthorized copy.  I don’t know if the RIAA has made such ridiculous and anti-use copyright arguments.

AG is demanding that the HathiTrust cease all of its activities, stop sharing with Google, and that the Court impound the already digitized volumes and “held in escrow under commercial grade security” and that such network be disconnected from the internet. And, of course, that the plaintiff’s be awarded attorneys’ fees and costs. This is a big battle but probably a necessary one.

I asked Sunita her opinion on the HathiTrust as she is an author published by a member of the HathiTrust:

I have really mixed feelings.

Obviously public domain stuff is easy, and they should be doing that first. But the “orphaned works” part is what I’m conflicted about. The way I read it (please correct me if I’m wrong), it’s up to the copyright holder to contact the Trust. All they do is put a notice on their website saying there is no clear copyright holder. But why isn’t it *their* responsibility to try and track down the rights holder? If a library buys a book, the author doesn’t necessarily know that, and so the heirs wouldn’t either. Suddenly, by virtue of it being in the U of Michigan library, it’s “orphaned” and UM & Google can slap it up online.
OTOtherH, the more material that’s in the public domain, the better. I just worry that the burden of proof is on the wrong people. UM & Google & the other libraries want to do this, so presumably they will derive benefits (I don’t believe it’s *only* about providing a public good, sorry). Then the burden should be on them.
I am thrilled that the pre-1923 stuff is being digitized, and I am thrilled that Google & the British Library are in partnership to digitize the public domain holdings. It’s already made my research easier.
Also, the argument that UM will only make the orphaned work available to students and faculty is a red herring. I find copyrighted materials (chapters of scholarly books, journal articles) on line ALL THE TIME. Unless they vigilantly police their students and faculty (which they sure as hell aren’t doing right now), all the stuff people are most interested in will wind up on the internet.
I read this article for backstory:  http://bit.ly/pox2TG

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A mysterious artist is leaving sculptures created out of books at various literary locations in Edinburgh.  The sculptures are beautiful and support the concept of paper books.  The creator has not stepped forward.  There is some kind of irony that deconstructed books are being used for these sculptures.

paper sculptures

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Ned believes that at some point in the future animation will be so realistic that there will be no need to hire actors for their faces, only for their voices.  A New York Times article suggests that writers might be the next set of creators to be replaced by technology.  Narrative Science has developed a program based on artificial intelligence that is now being used, amongst other things, to write news wires for sports.  The creators believe that in five years, a Pulitzer Prize will be won by a work  written by Narrative Science.   After reading this article, I have little doubt that at some point in the not so distant future, there will be fiction books, in part, written by these programs.

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Fast Company argues that Apple and Amazon are pushing toward segmentation of books for increased profit.  It makes sense. Sell a chapter for $1.00 and you’re making 2-5x more money than if you sold it individually.  I dislike this idea intensely. On the one hand I think there is a place for serialization but if this was the primary way in which books were sold, I’d balk.

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

62 Comments

  1. Teachsau
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 10:14:43

    I’m not at all surprised agents are only interested in certain kinds of books.
    You should try being an Australian and getting your books into America. Bryce Courtenay – whose books include The Power of One, which was made into a movie with people like Morgan Freeman, Daniel Craig and Hans Zimmer involved – has been a literary megastar for decades and still can’t get published in America because his books aren’t American enough.
    Bronwyn Parry – whose first book won the Golden Heart, and whose second was nominated for a RITA – still can’t get her books in print in America.

    I was reading a discussion amongst historical authors the other day – bestselling authors at that – and they were mentioning some of the story ideas that have been rejected. They weren’t ‘English enough’.

    I’d say those involved in the American publishing industry are more conservative than in other English-speaking countries. Even Harlequin Americanises their Superromances set outside of the US before they release them on the American public. Agents and publishers have a very firm idea of ‘what Americans read’, which limits people’s knowledge of the world and promotes ignorance.

    I know technology is going to be doing a lot of weird things in the future, but why would anybody want a robot writing books? I don’t see the point in half the things people invent.

  2. dick
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 10:35:46

    The relationship between publication and profit has always been uneasy, and these bits of information make that uneasiness palpable. The AG wants to preserve the profits; Amazon wants to the increase the profits; the agents want to make the profits; the authors want to publish–and I assume profit at least a bit. From one point of view it’s good business sense. From the other? Greed, maybe?

  3. DS
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 10:38:55

    Obviously public domain stuff is easy, and they should be doing that first. But the “orphaned works” part is what I’m conflicted about. The way I read it (please correct me if I’m wrong), it’s up to the copyright holder to contact the Trust. All they do is put a notice on their website saying there is no clear copyright holder. But why isn’t it *their* responsibility to try and track down the rights holder? If a library buys a book, the author doesn’t necessarily know that, and so the heirs wouldn’t either. Suddenly, by virtue of it being in the U of Michigan library, it’s “orphaned” and UM & Google can slap it up online.

    Here’s the work flow chart for the Orphan Works project. This is the steps taken to determine an orphan work. http://www.lib.umich.edu/orphan-works/documentation Looks pretty proactive and thorough.

    I have known some librarians who are greatly exercised about books disappearing. There’s one book that was put out by a vanity press sometime in the 60′s that I would pay good money for it I could find a copy. Okay it doesn’t help that I cannot remember the author or title. It was a presentation of an argument about an alternative author for Shakespeare’s works– in very bad verse by the daughter of a US congressman. The copy from our library disappeared some years ago.

  4. Sunita
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 11:15:32

    @DS: Thanks, that’s very helpful to know, and they clearly make an attempt to find the copyright holder if one is specified. I still have a problem with the part of the flowchart where if they don’t have contact information they conclude the work is orphaned. That’s a big leap to make. And then, if after a period of time the copyright holder hasn’t contacted them, they release the work into the public domain. That’s better than I initially thought, but the burden of notification ultimately rests with the copyright holder, i.e., no contact means the work is released.

    I agree that losing books is a bad thing for our collective knowledge; I run into the same problem with old diaries and private papers when the family don’t know where they are or if they even exist anymore. But we either treat everyone the same way or we create inequalities based on access to knowledge, etc. That’s why I’m conflicted.

  5. library addict
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 11:37:05

    I really wish agents/publishers/whomever it is would stop treating American readers as children. I would love to read more fiction set in foreign countries with foreign slang, etc. One of the things I enjoyed most about Toni Anderson’s Sea of Suspicion was that it felt like it actually took place in Scotland and not some generic seaside setting in the US.

    I don’t want animation replacing movies with actual actors any more than I want robots writing books. Sure movies and publishing are businesses, but acting and writing are also art. There is craft involved that I don’t think is replaceable by computers.

    I do not want to buy books by the chapter. That’s a stupid idea IMO.

  6. Karenmc
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 11:49:36

    Buying books by the chapter? It’s certainly an idea that someone will try – anything to increase the bottom line. But just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. The movie Polar Express (a perfect example of trying to remove the actor from the story with a computer overlay) was created because the technology exists, not because it was a good idea.

    And computer programs creating novels?! I need to lie down now.

  7. Mely
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 11:55:34

    But the fact is much of what we see published today is what an agent thinks is saleable, not what editors think is saleable, but what agents have decided can be sold. DRM, I’m told, is something agents want. Geographical restrictions is another thing agents push.

    Am I correct in inferring the argument that DRM and geographical restrictions are driven by agent demands and not (also) by publisher demands? Because that is not at all the implication I have seen elsewhere (especially for DRM), including previously at DearAuthor.

    I think the problem is not (just) that agents are discouraging clients from writing certain things, or are refusing to represent them, but that there is a general, if not universal, pushback against diversity of representation in publishing, for a lot of reasons: prejudice; assumed prejudice in the audience; marketing beliefs whether borne out by results or not (and any minority author who fails to succeed is seen by some as indication that every minority will fail to succeed, just as some people believe that if any minority author succeeds, every minority author will succeed); and the general assumption among many gatekeepers that they do not need to make a special effort to be more diverse because they do not need to make a special effort to be homogenous.

    I feel like this story is being depicted as “Agents bad! Editors good!” and that this simplifies the problem. As Scott Tracey points out, “[O]ne of the initial outcries to the article was people coming forward saying they invited LGBT books, or were open to them.

    “That’s not exactly the same thing as putting out that content.”

    I’m not trying to flip this around to “Editors bad, agents good,” or to say that there is universal badness among either group — just that I’m not convinced that agents are in fact generally a bigger part of the problem than editors, who are also subject to market pressure.

  8. mischa
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:04:02

    If they don’t have any valid contact info and they can’t find the copyright holder online, how else are they supposed to locate them? Putting up a blog post is akin to putting out advertisements in a bunch of newspapers 15 years ago. Only better because the next time someone searches for the book online, they will see it is thought to be an orphan work.

    Besides, HathiTrust removes the book from being available if the copywrite holder later comes forward. If you ask me, when a work is so obscure that it isn’t being sold online and all found contact info is invalid, the added exposure of making the book available online is free advertising for the copywrite holder. (Assuming the book is any good.)

  9. Sunita
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:13:20

    @mischa: The only area in which I disagree with you is in where the burden should lie. I don’t think anyone has the right to digitize books without copyright holders’ permission. I argue that permission must be affirmatively given.

    I’m arguing against my own interests here; I don’t write textbooks or readers or general interest books, so I don’t make money from my published work. I would be greatly advantaged if obscure books were digitized. But I don’t like how that messes with author rights.

    Empirically, my concerns may not be a big deal. But given that when some of the big libraries began digitizing, they didn’t seek proper approval before posting entire books on the internet, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here.

  10. Samantha
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:37:47

    The authors were not shot down by “by agent after agent for having a gay lead.” They were shot down by one agent. No other agent mentioned the character’s sexuality, and frankly I think it’s a bit alarmist to assume that was their reason for passing. None of us have read the manuscript and can say what problems it may have. Agents pass up good books all the time, for any number of reasons.

    I think this also misstates how agents work. Agents acquire books they think they can sell–because they spend a lot of time networking with editors and finding out what those editors are looking for. They’re not just randomly choosing the stories they want to read, editors be damned.

    Of course there should be more diversity in publishing, but it’s not like there’s a complete lack of LGTB characters in YA lit. Malinda Lo, Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr, David Levithan, Holly Black, Brent Hartinger, Lauren Myracle…off the top of my head, all of these authors include gay characters in their books.

    NY publishing is a largely sophisticated, liberal group of people. And a great many of the men in children’s publishing are gay.

  11. Jane
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 12:58:32

    @Mely We’ve touched on agent opinion, to the extent it is public, here based on what Chris Meadows reported from Frankfurt Book Fair.

    A week ago, I mentioned this problem in regard to comments from agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair who were concerned that American publishers might be trying to undermine territorial restrictions with e-book deals. One agent said that “It would upset the whole publishing dynamic if one let the digital edition seep into another market” and “Anyone trying to do that would really mess up their relationship with the author and the agent.”

    This is consistent with what I’ve heard privately as well. Agents and their power is an issue that isn’t much discussed but I expect it will be more so in the future as agents step into the publisher shoes.

    But you are right, it shouldn’t read editors good v. agents bad but agents are part of the big overweaning problem. When I spoke to editors at RWA, quite a few of them said that they weren’t seeing any unusual historicals. The great bulk of historicals are regency and it sounded like the editors are even tired of seeing those, but when you only accept agented manuscripts that is part of the problem.

  12. Jane
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:00:08

    @Samantha

    I think this also misstates how agents work. Agents acquire books they think they can sell–because they spend a lot of time networking with editors and finding out what those editors are looking for. They’re not just randomly choosing the stories they want to read, editors be damned.

    I agree with this completely. Agents are looking for marketable manuscripts.

    As for this being limited to one agent, the authors explain that it is NOT limited to one agent:

    This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character.

  13. Las
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:39:14

    Do manuscripts from established authors also have to go through an agent first? Like if Nora Roberts (just to use the biggest name I can think of) decided to write a historical set in Peru she would have to submit it to her editor through her agent? I know there would be other factors at play with that scenario, but since I get the impression that authors who sell get a lot of leeway I wonder if that extends to the submission process when a book is wildly different from what they usually write.

  14. Jane
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:42:30

    @Las: I think it depends. I think that whatever rules there are (loosely defined ones) they don’t apply to superstars. But established authors, even bestselling ones, send in proposals (sometimes only a few paragraphs) and sometimes 2-3 pages for their next books because I believe that the editor has to take something to the acquisition meeting to sell the other folks on how much they are going to pay a person.

    Plus, if the author is going to write something different like a RS writing historicals, then I do believe the agent is facilitating that. There are a number of authors who write for several houses, frex.

  15. Ros
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:49:03

    I don’t even read the free, online Harlequin serialisations because I can’t bear reading chapter by chapter. If I haven’t got the whole book to glom at my own pace, I’m not interested.

    I hadn’t made the link between agents and DRM/geographical restrictions before but it makes a lot of sense. It can sound as though they are doing their best to protect author’s interests if they insist on such things (even if it’s probably doing the opposite).

  16. Jane
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:51:21

    @Ros Yes, and I should have made it clear that not all agents are advocating for DRM and geo rights but that is the stance of many, I believe, and this is consistent with what big time pubs believe too (at least about DRM)

  17. Mely
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:00:55

    @Jane: Thanks for clarifying, Jane. I realize it probably sounded like a rhetorical question or a jab at the top of that overlong comment, but I really was confused.

  18. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:03:03

    Several years ago I wrote a Regency romance with a lesbian romance subplot. Although my agent was supportive, it is my understanding that some editors had reservations about that aspect. I ended up changing it and regret having done so. Ultimately the project didn’t pan out.

    I can’t really compare my situation (changing a light historical subplot vs. an integral main YA/GLBT character) but I feel for these authors. I also think that many editors, agents, and publishers are more open to gay characters now than they were just a few years ago.

    On the other hand, I continue to hear editors say things like “f/f doesn’t sell,” which discourages authors from writing and submitting this type of material. I hope that agents/editors will take the Genreville suggestion to state what they are open to. And keep in mind that buyer attitudes are changing.

  19. Jane
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:04:08

    @Mely: No, it’s clear that my post was very one sided and it shouldn’t have read that way. I don’t think editors are doing a great job of putting out really different stuff and agents aren’t doing a good job of really selling the different stuff.

    Agents are devoted to their clients, authors, and the reader doesn’t really come into their analysis, in my opinion. I don’t know if the reader should under a traditional publishing system but times are changing so it will be interesting to see what else changes too.

  20. Karina Bliss
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:44:12

    “Even Harlequin Americanises their Superromances set outside of the US before they release them on the American public.”

    Just a comment on that. I write New Zealand settings for SuperRomance. Yep, the spelling is Americanised, I mean Americanized, for one simple reason. Most sales for Supers are in North America and having readers constantly snagged by ‘s’ instead of ‘z’s and ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’ constantly drags them out of the story.
    Same with changing benchtop to countertop, weatherboards to clapboard and so on. Having said that my Canadian editor takes great pains to make sure that any ‘Kiwi’ word or slang explained by context stays. We once had a long discussion about the colour of cowshit, olive green in NZ, brown apparently in the US. The difference explained by the fact that our cows are outside eating pasture all year while many American cows are barned and grainfed through winter. Do I want to stop and explain that in a romance about the deep passionate and growing love between two people? Well, yeah, but she wouldn’t let me, wise woman. Brown cowshit it became.

    Karina Bliss

  21. Courtney
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:44:14

    This reminds me of the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? The editors deciding what they’ll buy because they can first sell it to their acquisitions department and ultimately to readers or agents deciding what editors are purchasing based on the conversations they’re having (or on what they’re seeing editors purchase)? I’ve seen a lot of authors comment on how great manuscripts are never published because of agents-agents who for whatever reason, think they’re not marketable. I think with the paradigm shift in publishing with so many smaller, independent pubs accepting MSs directly from authors, that this is changing.

    I also think that great writing sells, but if a book doesn’t fit into a defined marketing niche, the agent (and the editor) have to go that extra mile to sell it regardless of the quality of the work.

  22. Angela
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:56:45

    @Karina Bliss:

    Most sales for Supers are in North America and having readers constantly snagged by ‘s’ instead of ‘z’s and ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’ constantly drags them out of the story.

    I must be in the minority – not surprising to me really – but these things don’t pull me out of the story. I may, the first time I run across the ‘s’ or ‘ou’ in a word, have a random thought run through my mind that this wasn’t written by an American, but it never pulls me out of the story.

    Though, to be honest, I often find I’m having to correct myself on s/z and ou/o in words. And I like colour a lot better than color, just for the way it looks written out.

  23. MaryK
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 15:14:53

    Sounds like the HathiTrust has a really good data backup system. :)

    It seems to me that $1.00 a chapter for serialized books would cause a big jump in pirating. Filesharing one chapter would seem to be a lot easier to justify to oneself. There’d probably be chapter swapping sites and groups splitting costs by each buying a chapter and passing them around.

  24. Brian
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 15:32:39

    LOL, I can just imagine a James Patterson book going the $1 a chapter route. The last Women’s Murder Clib book has 124 chapters (many a page or two), but I can see someone getting the bright idea to try it.

    In skimming the article though some of their examples are short stories (Amazon Singles). Not the same thing at all as selling a single chapter from a larger book.

    I like the idea of selling the short stories from an anthology separatley though (as long as the whole book is available too). I know Penguin has had some success with that, not sure about other pubs.

  25. MD
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:19:05

    Re: fiction written by computer software. I actually work in the area, and I don’t believe it, at least not for anytime soon. We can do decent text generation from a database. So you have a database of scores and moves in the game, have some very specific knowledge of what may interest people, detect those interesting features and make a story. Works fine, but takes a long time to implement, and only in very limited domains. I.e., you get to write a new piece of software for sports scores, a totally new one for weather reports, yet another one for museum descriptions. Even a short story contains so much variety that we wouldn’t even know where to begin dealing with it. And representing a good romance novel by a database? That would really make it in a formulaic products the uninformed think it to be ;-)

  26. Ridley
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:42:02

    @Karina Bliss:

    Most sales for Supers are in North America and having readers constantly snagged by ‘s’ instead of ‘z’s and ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’ constantly drags them out of the story.

    I find this hard to believe. Americans are so contemptuous of education that they wouldn’t notice spelling variations if they sat on their faces and farted. Your average American can barely read or write English at all. I cannot believe they 1. notice Commonwealth English spelling or 2. give a crap if they did notice.

  27. Karina Bliss
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:49:15

    Angela, I think it’s familiarity that makes it easy for the brain to stop missing a subconscious beat at things like color/colour – which I guess speaks to the argument that its a good idea to throw variety in there re spelling. After writing ten books using American spelling for basic words, the ‘z’ instead of the ‘s’ finally looks normal to me.

  28. library addict
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:54:45

    @Angela: September 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    @Karina Bliss:

    Most sales for Supers are in North America and having readers constantly snagged by ‘s’ instead of ‘z’s and ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’ constantly drags them out of the story.

    I must be in the minority – not surprising to me really – but these things don’t pull me out of the story.

    It doesn’t bother me at all either. I do wonder if this is something publishers only think bothers readers or if they’ve actually done a study, focus group, or something.

  29. Karina Bliss
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:55:25

    Okay, this is interesting, bear with me. Current book I’m writing has the word ‘bach’ which is the ubiquitious word in NZ for a beach-house. It’s pronounced ‘batch’. Can’t use it without explaining the pronounciation, right? Because context won’t tell the reader that it’s not pronouced like the composer. When word choices get awkward, you have to find another way.

  30. MaryK
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:58:50

    @MD: I think this is where author voice and the artistic aspect of writing come into play. Not just choosing a correct word, but choosing the word that gives the right nuance to a particular line in a particular character’s dialog in a particular book. It’s why different authors can write the same plot and come up with different books.

  31. LG
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 17:02:13

    @Karina Bliss: I’ve read books with Welsh words and place names in them that never explained the pronunciation. I’m sure that the pronunciation I use in my head when I’m reading is completely wrong, but the words don’t bother me, as long as I’m given enough context to know what they mean, like “this is the name of the main character’s home town,” “this is some kind of delicious food,” etc.

    I think it depends on a reader’s tolerance. Then again, I’m also one of those readers who doesn’t mind made-up words in paranormal romance, as long as I can figure out their meanings well enough that I don’t constantly need to consult the glossary if there is one, or wish for a glossary if there isn’t.

  32. MaryK
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 17:24:42

    @Karina Bliss: Is it that important for the pronunciation to be explained? I ask in all sincerity because I was a precocious reader and there were lots of words I learned the meaning of long before I learned how to pronounce them. (There are probably still some languishing uncorrected, actually.) Historicals often have unfamiliar words, as well.

    For what it’s worth, I think ‘bach’ for beach-house is pretty cool.

  33. Karina Bliss
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 18:22:22

    Okay, I’ll talk about it with my editor. Maybe it’s my sensitivity. My sister and I still laugh about how she used to think penis was pronouced pennis (like tennis) as a kid. All girl household, all girl school, the golden days of ignor – innocence.

  34. Karina Bliss
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 18:26:44

    Okay, I’ll talk ‘bach’ through with my editor. Maybe it’s my sensitivity. My sister and I got caught out as kids pronoucing penis as ‘pennis’ to rhythm with ‘tennis.’ All girl family, all girl school. Golden days of ignor…innocence.

  35. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 18:36:52

    I’m actually rather curious as to the kind of fiction artificial intelligence might write. Wonder if differently programmed A.I. might develop different voices, etc., etc.

  36. Jeannie Lin
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:13:13

    A note on UK English (which I believe is closer to NZ English) and American English and whether publishers have done any studies or such. For Harlequin Historicals, books set in America such as Westerns use American English while books set in Europe use UK spellings. I assume that includes Viking and Romans as well. They found that international readers were put off by seeing American spellings in the European settings, but NA readers were fine with UK spellings. The decision was made to use UK spellings for Chinese settings because it was perceived it would be comfortable for the international readership and the NA readers were less likely to find it obtrusive than vice versa. This was the reasoning for Harlequin Historicals which are largely set outside the US, however. Perhaps they also have a larger percentage of international readers compared with Superromance. In any case, I believe publishers are doing market research to make these decisions.

    The “hard sell” “no market” mantra is one I’ve experienced indeed. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily a case that a publisher won’t be able to sell a book with POC or LGBT characters. I think the numbers seem to bear out that they could invest the same time and effort, but make more money publishing something mainstream. The current infrastructure knows how to market mainstream books to a mainstream audience. Publishers and agents open to diverse manuscripts might be open to the subject matter, but are they open to taking a loss and continuing to invest in that author or series when initial sales don’t pan out? I think the gatekeepers have to be willing and ready to take on some financial risk for things to really change. Hard to do in this current climate. I’m with my agent because 1) she has other authors who actually pay the bills and 2) she’s a true believer.

  37. LJD
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:29:55

    @ Karina Bliss:

    That cowshit example was interesting, hehe.

    I’m Canadian, and used to all sorts of spellings…

  38. Laura Florand
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:38:09

    @Karina Bliss: Personally I think it’s a shame you didn’t keep the olive green cowshit. :)

    Seriously, though. It’s an interesting detail. I am in the camp that is totally opposed to the spelling alterations and the vocabulary changes, though. I’m pretty sure people would figure out from context what a “bach” was, even if they never did get the pronunciation–how many words did we pick up from books before we ever learned their pronunciation, anyway? And it would be an interesting bit of slang to pick up.

    Good luck with the book! :)

  39. Andrea
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:50:31

    US v UK/AU/NZ spelling – I’ve heard tell of books receiving negative reviews for “all the typos” – the typos being non-Americanised words.

    Of course, if more non-Americanised books were made available to Americans, I’m sure they’d quickly become used to the variations.

    I don’t Americanise my books and have yet to receive a complaint. I did, however, use a glossary for my YA SF book because phrases like “Not happy Jan” will tend to go over the head of any non-Australian reader.

  40. Carin
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 20:15:19

    @Karina Bliss. My grandfather was an American dairy farmer. I know of green cow poop – in the spring mostly for us. I have green/brown eyes which my family affectionately described as “cow poop green” for many many years.

    As for s/z spellings and other changes between Australian/NZ and US printings… I had no idea you made so many changes! Naively I’ve been really enjoying the little pieces that were left in. Personally, I LOVE the feeling of being somewhere else I get when I read a story set outside the US. I hope your editors will leave more and more slang and spellings in your books. I really enjoy it!

  41. Lil
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 20:20:20

    Editors want to buy books they think they can sell to a sufficient number of readers.
    Agents want to take on books they think they can sell to editors.
    I don’t think there is anything to be gained by getting on a high moralistic horse and insisting that they should have bought a book with a theme you favor. The big six don’t publish a whole lot of Inspies either. It’s smaller publishers that go for the niche markets, and agents don’t make a whole lot of money selling to them. That’s why those publishers take unagented submissions.

  42. Michael
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 20:45:36

    @DS: I wonder if she was any relation to Ignatius L. Donnelly?

  43. Christine M.
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 21:06:51

    Another Canadian, here who’s only peeve with the various English spellings is that Anglo-Canadians use both pretty freely and that it complicates my work when I search for terms with the British English spelling whereas the author wrote it using American english spelling. But I’m getting used to it. :)

  44. SAO
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 00:33:18

    I like settings and characters outside the NA norm. I’d love to read Indian romances or South African with Indian or SA characters. Or from any other country with native English writing. Surely someone can come up with the best Indian romances.

    The Indian movies that have made it my way are, I suspect, the best of Bollywood and they are very good.

    The problem with geo restrictions with DRM is that no one has divided up the huge market for English language books outside the English speaking countries. For the most part, it’s left to pirates.

  45. Lorenda
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 00:36:33

    @Sherry Thomas:

    Hehe – Will we have a computer named “Alpha-Male”, one named “Mary Sue”, and another “Kick-Ass Heroine”? That’d be kind of awesome, actually. Ok – awesome once. Then it would get really, really old.

  46. MaryK
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 00:38:40

    @Sherry Thomas: Like one programmed to write the angsty-est, most melodramatic HP ever? :)

  47. sarah mayberry
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 02:54:34

    The computers writing fiction scenario reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons where Montgomery Burns has a roomful of monkeys with typewriters writing the next great American novel. Their first effort? “It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times.” I’d like to see a computer beat that!

    Seconding Karina’s comment – before I was published, I was marked down in a RWA contest for the non-American spelling of certain words. Us Antipodeans hear the “why are Australian/NZ books written in US English” question all the time. Ironically, I “ran my eye” over a US author’s book that was set in Australia a few years back to help out with catching inaccuracies, and I noticed she was allowed to keep lots of Mum’s and utes and biccies in the finished product because, I guess, they were trying to sell the fact that the book was “authentic”. Confusing and apparently contradictory? You betcha.

  48. Ros
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 03:55:52

    I recently read a couple of books by Nicola Cornick. She’s British. Her books are published by Mills and Boon in the UK (the Richmond office is the one listed inside the cover). Her books are set in the UK. And yes, I was completely pulled out of the story several times by the American spellings.

  49. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 07:20:44

    @MaryK: I’d really like to read a romance by a BAD A.I. writer. :-)

  50. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 07:22:21

    Also, my agent Kristin Nelson blogged on the GLBT issue.

    http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2011/09/nelson-literary-agency-has-no-prob-with.html

  51. Edie
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 08:07:30

    Just for a random comment, there is just one US spelling that throws me out of the story (even US based ones) every single time. ASS.
    It is a completely different word without the R. o_O
    “His hands caressed her donkey”

  52. sarah mayberry
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 08:32:03

    Edie, mostly I agree, because I’m Australian, but you have to admit that “he was a real bad ass” sounds/reads better then “he was a real bad arse.” For me, those words are not interchangeable in that context. But maybe it’s just me. Now, must get my donkey to bed…

  53. April
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 09:38:19

    To this American, “arse” always reads like the posterior equivalent of “gosh darn it”—as if someone’s skirting vulgarity.

    Funnily enough, I always thought the word was used by American writers butchering dialect, not that “arse” was an actual word in a non-American dictionary. Learn something new every day…

  54. Brian
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 12:58:00

  55. Samantha
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 11:18:23

  56. Jane
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 18:04:13

    @Samantha that blog post really surprises me because a) it accuses the authors of lying and b) of using the blog post to “exploit” the agent. I wonder if their lawyers approved it. I can’t see giving that advice. The post itself may be a breach of fiduciary relationship at best and defamatory at worst.

    It’s definitely a she said/she said thing but the authors did not defame the agent whereas the accusations of lying and exploitation are risky statements to put out there publicly.

    What we do know from both blog posts is that the authors were asked to remove the gay character. It is confirmed in this contradictory statement by the agent:

    s). Our second bit of editorial feedback was that at least two POVs, possibly three, needed to be cut. Did one of these POVs include the gay character in question? Yes. Is it because he was gay? No. It’s because we felt there were too many POVs that didn’t contribute to the actual plot. We did not ask that any of these characters be cut from the book entirely. Let us repeat that, we did not ask that any of the characters in the book –gay or straight—be cut from the book

    two or three POVs needed to be cut including the gay character but we did not ask for any characters to be cut from the book?

  57. Amy B.
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 18:51:08

    “DRM, I’m told, is something agents want. Geographical restrictions is another thing agents push.”

    I can’t help but speak up, because for myself and the agents I know, both those statements are patently untrue.

    First, DRM. It might have been true earlier this decade that the majority of agents were in favor of it, but that was in the early ebook world, where things were even more uncertain then than they are now. Now most agents (at least the ones I know) are of the “DRM is stupid and only hurts those legally buying the books, without stopping piracy at all” camp. There may be those that support DRM, but I would say they’re in the minority, and frankly, what they think doesn’t much matter. DRM is not discussed in any contracts I’ve seen.

    As for geographical restriction, agents want to get the book out to as many paying readers as possible. Which is actually why we parcel out the rights to different territories, so we can best ensure that the book gets out to the markets that will buy them. But, looking back at some of your previous posts you linked to in the comments, please remember to separate translation rights vs. selling-English-language-books-in-non-English-speaking-countries, known as Nonexclusive Territories. UK and US contracts contain language addressing the NT, usually to the effect that both UK and US publisher of any given book can sell it in the NT. (Which is why if you go into the English books sections of European bookstores, you can find the same book with two different covers.) So if you can’t find an English ebook in, say, Switzerland, it’s because the US and/or UK publishers haven’t made it available there yet, and believe me, that frustrates agents as much as readers. Possibly more, because that’s money lost to us and our authors! We do our best to push publishers on this, and are even bringing it to the negotiation table, but change takes time.

    If you want to talk or have any questions, please feel free to email or message me. I just hate anyone to think I’m not on the readers’ side on this, because I am, both as a reader and an author advocate.

    -Amy

  58. Andrea
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 19:03:04

    Karina, it may be a strange thing for me to find fascinating, but I didn’t know that about national variation in colours of cowshit, lol! As a Canadian I would have thought of it as a seasonal difference; I have seen grassfed cows’ leavings in the summer, and yes they are much greener than grain- and hayfed cows’ offerings in the winter. It never crossed my mind that this could also translate into a regional difference, but of course that stands to reason. My something new for the day–though maybe not one I will share over the dinner table, eh? ;)

    Jane, regarding cutting of POVs–that statement seems in no way contradictory to me. A POV can certainly be cut without cutting a character; it simply requires that the actions of the character whose POV was cut be described in the remaining narration. It can certainly alter the story, possibly to the detriment of the narrative (imagine if the first chapter of Harry Potter had been narrated by Dudley Dursley!) but the statement itself isn’t contradictory.

  59. Jane
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 19:05:06

    @Amy B. Maybe the culture is changing and maybe it is the literary agents in the larger houses that push this. I know I had a heated argument with Michelle Wolfson on Twitter about geo restrictions. Translation rights and territory rights have, in the past, been sold as a package. In fact, if they are being sold separately then that would be a change. I have written about that before here.

  60. Jane
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 19:06:23

    @Andrea: I see what you are saying. But there doesn’t change the irresponsible nature of the post by the agent nor the adverse legal implications of such post.

  61. Jane
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 19:31:55

    @Amy B. I’d also direct you to here and Nathan Bransford’s feelings about DRM here. It may be the case of the lit fic agents primarily arguing for these things. These publishing houses are largely focused on hardcover books. That’s the tail that wags the dog so it is possible that romance agents and other agents are ready to toss aside DRM but hardcover folks, maybe not so much. I remember this post (and the WSJ article) from two years ago when agents were talking about windowing.

    In any event, I don’t doubt that there are agents that want neither geo graphical restrictions or DRM. But I’m equally certain that there are agents who still believe in DRM and the profitability of geographical restrictions.

  62. Friday Midday Links: Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation Responds to DeGaying YA claims - Dear Author
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 09:18:40

    [...] used the post to illustrate that agents have a lot of say over what editors see, particular editors who only read agented manuscripts, and [...]

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