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Friday News: Authors Guild backs Hachette, Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, Harper Collins tries direct-to-consumer sales, and Jenny Trout exposes bias against body fat

Friday News: Authors Guild backs Hachette, Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, Harper...

Authors Guild Weighs In on Amazon-Hachette Dispute – I know you’ve been waiting for this; the Authors Guild’s Richard Russo wrote a letter to its members, essentially backing Hachette in the current game of publishing chicken. I don’t think this is at all surprising, given the Guild’s history of and perspective on author advocacy, but I have to admit that I find the logic even more mind-boggling than usual:

In closing, Russo notes that the Guild is not anti-Amazon and acknowledges that traditional publishers have not treated writers fairly when it comes to e-book revenues. But, he continues in closing, “To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell.” –Publishers Weekly

Amazon Announces Five Finalists in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest – Customer voting is currently underway in the 7th annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) and will continue through the next week. The winner will receive a $50,000 Amazon publishing contract, while the four other finalists will get an Amazon publishing contract and a $15K advance. 10,000 titles were submitted in the categories of General Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, and Young Adult Fiction, so there’s a finalist for each category. There is a voting link on the page, which allows you to read 3-5K word samples of each book. I haven’t yet checked any of them out, but holy heck could the Romance novel have a less promising and original title?????!

The 2014 ABNA Finalists are:

General Fiction: A Pledge of Silence by Flora Solomon, Southport, NC

Mystery/Thriller: The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley, Shaker Heights, OH

Romance: The Bluestocking and the Rake by Norma Darcy, Canterbury, Kent GB

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror: The Mengele Effect by Chuck Grossart, Bellevue, NE

Young Adult Fiction: Seashell, Stork and Apple Tree by Carrie Anne Noble, Montoursville, PA

The ABNA contest takes new fiction from pitch to publication in a much more accelerated path than traditional publishing. –Amazon Press Releases

HarperCollins launches direct-to-consumer sales site – I’m not sure whether to cheer or give this new publisher website the skeptical side-eye. Although only the US site is available now, the UK site is expected to be up and running in August, followed by sites in Canada and Australia. I would LOVE to see traditional publishers actually paying attention to readers as their customers, but given the current Amazon-Hachette situation, and, you know, the whole collusion thing, I’m not particularly confident or trusting at this point. Hopefully I’m wrong.

In a statement, the publisher said: “The capability to sell directly will enable the company to better understand consumer preferences and, most importantly, further extend the global reach of its authors.” It added that authors would be able to use the technology to sell directly through their own sites.

Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer said: “We are excited to be able to offer an e-commerce solution to our authors, ensuring their books are always available to their fans. As a publisher, we want to offer as many paths to the consumer as possible.” –The Bookseller

Fat Woman Wears Bikini, World Doesn’t End – You may have seen Trout’s original article on her so-called “fatkini” picture, which has gained tremendous attention and initiated a much-needed discussion about narrow Western standards of beauty and all the ways society consciously and unconsciously colludes to validate them. We’ve had this discussion in Romance many times, as well, and clearly we need to keep having it, since so often “plump” heroines are portrayed either as getting a makeover to win the attentions of a love interest or as beautiful despite their weight.

Trout wraps up her piece this way: “The reason these people do not want to see a fat body in a bikini is because traditionally, that garment is something a woman earns by proving herself attractive enough to exist. If fat women begin wearing them without shame or fear, what’s next? Will they have self-esteem? Will they demand respect? Then what will keep them in their proper place? How would conventionally attractive people judge them?

“As a society, we need to be more honest in our discussions of others’ bodies. If we can’t avoid those totally unnecessary conversations, then we should at least admit the truth to ourselves: That this has nothing to do with health, and everything to do with the control we believe is our right to exert over others.” Amen to that, sister. –Yahoo Shine

Friday News: The “Average” Barbie, the dark side of Kickstarter, the art of re-reading, and Harlequin’s declining revenues

Friday News: The “Average” Barbie, the dark side of Kickstarter, the...

The New Barbie: Meet the Doll with an Average Woman’s Proportions – Remember the artist’s rendering of what an “average” Barbie would look like? Well, Nickolay Lamm decided to take his vision and make it a reality, raising $95,000 on Kickstarter to design and manufacture his own doll. to be advertised with the slogan, “Average is beautiful” (do you think we could circulate something similar for three-star reviews?). Lamm has the backing of the former vice president of manufacturing of Mattel, the company that has long made the Barbie, whose sales are currently in decline, and that connection will hopefully pair Lamm with a manufacturer who can produce a high quality doll. Frankly, I hope the Lammily kicks Barbie’s artificially skinny ass.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Barbie lead designer Kim Culmone vigorously defended the dolls ridiculous measurements, arguing not only that it wasn’t responsible for instilling negative body images in young girls but also that it was necessary to get clothes on and off the doll’s body with ease. “I’ve heard that argument before but I find it odd,” Lamm said. “There are female action figures who are full bodied, and clothes fit fine.” –Time

Kickstarter Fail: Artist Raises $51K to Publish Books, Burns Them in Alley – And now we peer into the dark side of Kickstarter, with the story of John Campbell, a webcomic artist who raised more than $51,000 for a book based on his online comic, “Pictures for Sad Children.” Campbell did, in fact, produce the books, at a cost of about $30,000, but apparently did not have the money to ship them all, and in addition to having some of the Kickstarter money go to the IRS for back taxes, had to spend more of the money on a plastic-bound dead wasp for the inside of each book. Reading Campbell’s story, it sounds like this is more than a failure of money or Kickstarter, but it’s also a reminder that a Kickstarter investment is largely speculative.

Campbell said he successfully mailed 750 to 800 books, while another 150 were undeliverable and returned to him due to old addresses. He plans to burn the rest of the books that have been sitting in his apartment in boxes for over a year.

Two weeks ago, the stress of not being able to afford to mail the books prompted Campbell to burn 127 books behind a dumpster in an alley behind his apartment.

Campbell said burning the books was “like a weight lifted off of me.” –DNAinfo Chicago

Re-reading: The ultimate guilty pleasure? – This is a nice piece on the art of re-reading, from its changing pleasures as we get older, to speculation about its intellectual and emotional benefits, to the question of how many people do and don’t re-read, and why. Is re-reading only habitual among genre fiction readers? I hadn’t really thought about re-reading as something to remark and reflect on until I read this article. Playwright Samantha Ellis has even written a book, How To Be A Heroine, based on her longtime interest in Wuthering Heights.

Scientists have weighed in, too, citing the mental health benefits of re-reading. Research conducted with readers in the US and New Zealand found that on our first reading, we are preoccupied by the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’. Second time round, we’re able to better savour the emotions that the plot continues to ignite. As researcher Cristel Russell of the American University explained of re-readers in an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, returning to a book “brings new or renewed appreciation of both the object of consumption and their self”.  –BBC Culture

Revenue Declines Continue at Harlequin – Revenues at Harlequin have been on the decline for the past five years, and profits declined 27% from last year. Given Harlequin’s range of books/lines and perception of the reader as their customer, this is not great news. Harlequin has blamed competition in digital book pricing, but I’m thinking the crappy royalty arrangements can’t be helping, either, especially as more Romance authors turn to self-publishing.

In its report, Harlequin blamed ebook prices in North America, specifically, “increased discounts being offered on digital sales of other publishers’ bestselling titles.” Outside of North America, “growth in digital revenue was insufficient to offset print declines.” –Digital Book World