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Jack London

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bankruptcy and Publishing

With all the talk of small publishers, and possibly a few bigger publishers, filing for bankruptcy, I see a lot of misinformation traveling around the writer blogosphere. If your publisher has filed for bankruptcy, or is facing the possibility of filing, this is a time when a writer really, truly needs expert help in the form of a bankruptcy attorney.

Many contracts with American publishers have a clause in them, saying that in the event that the publisher files for, or is forced into, bankruptcy, all rights revert back to the writer. For all intents and purposes, this clause IS ABSOLUTELY MEANINGLESS!

Why? In the American legal system, contracts are governed by state law. In fact, there's usually another clause in the contract specifying which state's law is the deciding factor. (And it's almost always the publishers' home state.) Bankruptcy law is federal law. And the American system, federal law almost always trumps state law.

What does this mean? It means if your publisher files for bankruptcy, the rights he bought from you become part of the bankruptcy estate and can be sold to satisfy the publisher's debts. Not only that, but if your publisher owes you royalties, those royalties are an unsecured debt which put you the writer near the bottom of the list of people to get paid by the bankruptcy trustee. This isn't anything personal on the part of the trustee. The law ranks creditors in a certain order.

If you think your publisher is in trouble (such as the poor folks who sold rights to Ellora's Cave), you need to talk to an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy NOW. If you wait, you may never see your precious books again.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Ellora's Cave May Have Just Committed Suicide

In case you actually had a life over the weekend and missed the blow-up, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc. and Jasmine-Jade Enterprises, LLC filed a civil suit Friday morning against Dear Author Media Network, LLC, and Jennifer Gerrish-Lampe for defamation. Ellora's Cave was a ground-breaking e-book erotica publisher. Jennifer is better known as Jane Litte, the proprietress of Dear Author, an incredibly popular romance blog and review website.

The subject of Ellora's Cave (aka EC) has been a major topic on the internet for the past few months. Jennifer wrote a piece that was, in my opinion, fair and factual in regards to their business problems. I linked to it when I compared EC's current behavior to the events leading to Dorchester's demise. Everything Jennifer mentioned is a matter of public record. She laid out the facts, and she gave an opinion about what may be going on behind the scenes and what the end result may be. Her post went live fifteen days ago on September 14th.

Three days ago on September 26th, EC filed suit against Jennifer in Akron, specifically the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division. You can read the actual court documents here at the Summit County Clerk of Courts. I first heard about the lawsuit in an article on The Digital Reader. The Passive Voice has posted the actual filing, which is now a matter of public record, along with his own legal commentary. Inexplicably, EC's attorney attached a copy of Jennifer's blog post to the pleading.

*facepalm*

I know it's been a while since I've practiced law (and nothing I'm about to say constitutes legal advice or legal representation of anyone WHATSOEVER), but what the fuck was that attorney thinking? The apparent objective of the lawsuit was to suppress Jennifer's analysis of EC and chill any further discussion of EC 's business practices. Yet, he just made sure everyone in the world can read it. As Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader said, the Streisand Effect will ensure everyone on the planet knows about the Dear Author blog post and shine a very bright light on EC's behavior.

In a case like this, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, i.e. EC, to show that Jennifer deliberately lied to damage their business. Which means their going to have to open their financials to the court to prove one of the main allegations, that EC did in fact pay ALL their writers, editors and cover artists. Again, any evidence entered into the case will become a matter of public record. Considering how many EC authors are openly complaining about the lack of payment, these folks will be very interested in seeing the financial records of the company.

By Saturday afternoon, the Streisand Effect was in full force as bloggers spread the word about Dear Author getting sued. Outraged readers picked up the thread. Even Publishers Weekly broadcasted it through their Twitter account.

By filing this lawsuit, EC may have just hastened its ultimate fate. The company may not even survive long enough for this case to go to trial.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

The End of an Era

No, I'm not quitting the blog. I'm talking about the place I've lived the longest in my entire life. Eighteen years, three months, and seventeen days.

DH and I moved in June 23rd, the day before our first anniversary. Our son took his first bite of ice cream in that kitchen. His first step in that living room. His first bath. His first swear word.

Part of us expected him to learn to drive on our street, too. But it wasn't meant to be. We needed to be elsewhere.

And I think my in-laws needed Genius Kid on an emotional level. Maybe more than they needed the help around the house that both DH and GK provided.

Leaving is bittersweet. In my heart, I know it's time to leave. GK is afforded educational opportunities in Ohio he wouldn't get in Houston. DH needs to spend time with his parents before the inevitable happens. I have new business opportunities that I need the peace to focus on.

But we all are going to miss this place. The Houston Museum of Natural Science. Our favorite Mexican restaurant and their margarita nights. The soccer league GK played in and DH coached.

Several people have asked if we're buying a new house. Not yet. I'm exhausted from getting this house ready for the market, and I've spent most of the summer sick from that same exhaustion and stress. DH and I need to think about GK's college and our retirement rather than plunging into another money sink that property ownership can be. Frankly, I want someone else to take care of things for a while.

And as much as I'm tired of dealing with our old house, I'm still going to miss it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Real Author Versus The Person on the Page

Last Sunday, the Passive Guy posted a snippet of Drew Hayes' blog post titled "Image Management." Drew talks about some basic, common-sense rules for portraying yourself on social media. He also made a couple of very good points that readers expect to interact with writers these days and that it's exhausting maintaining a fake persona.

Cal Rogers, one of the commenters at TPV, became very irate with Drew's statement concerning writers "whose entire image is just their body of work. It feels like trying to shake the hand of a cardboard cutout." Cal felt Drew dismissed a life's work in favor of a tweet about breakfast.

There's really two problems here:

1) Some writers are very uncomfortable with ANY social interaction. Let's face it--most of us are introverts. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. But some folks get just as freaked about social media as they do attending a formal dinner.

For folks like Cal, please remember that you do not have to use social media. No one's holding a gun to your head to tweet about what you had for breakfast. If you find it uncomfortable, it will show in your interactions and will probably make your readers uncomfortable as well. Honestly, you don't have to do anything just because you think the everyone else is doing it.

2) Drew, on the other hand, makes a good point that writers who only talk about their books can come across as one-dimensional. This is true of any profession. Haven't you been to some social function where there's this one guy who can only talk about his job? The other people at the function avoid him because his stories about asphalt or stocks or whatever becomes repetitious and boring.

That's what social media is for professionals. It's the cocktail hour where you don't drink too much, avoid politics and religion, and try to stick to chitchat where you can make a connection without going overboard. That is, you talk about the upcoming Avengers movie, but not the five-pound tumor that was removed from your stomach.

I knew there's probably someone reading this who's thinking, "But, Suzan, you write under two different names, and you don't reveal to people that they're both the same person. How do you call that honest?"

As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I'm a geek girl who likes love, romance, and freaky sex. The geek aspect is emphasized under the Suzan Harden name. The rest is emphasized under Alter Ego. That doesn't mean the two don't meet.

This morning, Alter Ego and one of her readers had a long, online discussion about last night's season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As for Suzan, take a closer look at the Bloodlines and Seasons of Magick series. A lot of my characters get busy and fall in love in those books. In neither case, do I come out and say I love fishing and hunting because I don't. On the other hand, both personas mention ice cream. A lot.

What it comes down to is if you plan to use social media to further your writing career, be yourself. Trust me, you're cool and readers will love you for it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Facepalm Is Strong with the Authors Guild

This is a link to a video debate between Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, and Paul Kedrosky, contributing editor at Bloomberg.

Some people just should not speak publicly. I'm not endorsing Paul's reference to a Clay Shirkey tweet,


but Roxana bit on the bait and still doesn't feel the hook in her lip.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Silence from Barnes & Noble Is Deafening

So what exactly is going on with Barnes & Noble's Nook and NookPress businesses?

The company claims three companies are courting them to purchase the Nook business. But is there really a business left to purchase?

Microsoft, a forced partner in Nook with B&N thanks to an IP lawsuit over the e-reader's tech, has declined to take over the business.

The Nook e-reader itself is gone, replaced by a Samsung tablet. Could Samsung be one of the suitors? Possibly. After the lawsuits filed against them by rival Apple, the Samsung execs may want to stick it to the house that Jobs built.

But the other two? No idea, though there's plenty of speculation on the internet.

As for known buy-out attempts, the sale to G Asset fell through last February. Since then, there have been no obviouos takers. Also, B&N has been noted to announce things in order to jack with the company's share price. Like Chairman Len Riggio saying he was going to buy the B&M retail portion of the business in 2013. He supposedly backed out over concerns from other shareholders.

Speaking of Riggio, he dumped a huge chunk of his stock last April. That sort of act doesn't show much faith in the health of the company he founded.

Concern about B&N's financial health flared among indie writers when approximately 5% of them didn't receive payments due at the end of August. B&N claimed it was a computer glitch. (Hmmm...where have we heard that story before? Ellora's Cave. Dorchester. Triskelion. Silver. And so on...) But they refused to answer e-mails from many NookPress authors, nor did they make an announcement on the NookPress News page. No, they didn't issue any answer until Publishers Weekly bugged them about the issue. Not reassuring to those of us doing business through NookPress. Not reassuring at all.

The next day B&N rejoiced that their second quarter losses were less than their first quarter's. It doesn't stop the company's steady bleeding of red since 2012.

Even more bizarre was an e-mail I received from B&N (and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who received it). They would give me twenty dollars for every Samsung Nook Tablet that was sold through my affiliate code.

Affiliate code? This was the first I knew they'd finally activated their affiliate program. But this late in the game why would I shill for a company that refuses to answer my e-mails about missing sales?

Then there's the "data migration" B&N announced last Saturday. NookPress would not be updating sales data from Sept. 16th through 22nd.

Again, no explanation for what this "data migration" is. However, reports from customers started trickling in that the DOWNLOAD button to load a copy of the books they bought to a third party app or device had been removed. B&N has already stopped supporting the Nook App for PC. One of the few things B&N had going for it over Amazon, and they yank it with no warning?

B&N's constant stonewalling of information scares the crap out of me. I have no idea what they're doing or why they're doing it. It's difficult for me to make business decisions when a business partner is hiding information. This is one of my biggest complaints about Amazon. However, B&N has taken it to a whole new level.

I've already decided not to load any of my new releases onto the NookPress platform. I'm disappointed to be forced into this position. For the last two and a half years, I've made more money from my Nook books than all other e-book retailers combined. But I cannot deny any longer that B&N is dying.

I'll make the decision whether or not to pull my current books from NookPress at the end of the month. If I don't receive my payment, it'll make pulling the plug that much easier.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Authors United Strikes Again

Writers need to learn business.

Willful ignorance by writers who should know business is downright embarrassing.

Authors United, a little group of writers headed by Douglas Preston, is showing their willful ignorance.

Again.

Even worse, they display elitism and racism at its most horrible. I'm terribly ashamed that one of my favorite authors, Ursula Le Guin, signed a letter vilifying blue collar workers and Asian workers. Feel free to contact her or any of the other writers.

I will.

As soon as my blood pressure lowers enough for me to write coherently.

So what's going on?

Many of the AU authors are published by Hatchette Book Group. Hatchette's contract with Amazon expired last March. Amazon has been trying since January to work out a new contract with Hatchette, who ignored all communications until May.

That's when the PR war started. News media issued story after story of how Amazon was deliberately trying to kill traditional publishing. Anonymous tips came from unnamed sources close to Hatchette.

When that didn't work, James Patterson and Doug Preston took to the airwaves. Interview after interview claimed that Amazon was 1) refusing to sell Hatchette books, 2) refusing to discount Hatchette books and 3) slowing delivery of Hatchette books.

In reality, 1) Amazon is selling all published Hatchette books, but they aren't putting pre-order buttons on un-published books, 2) the same people had been bitching when Amazon WAS discounting their books, and 3) Amazon wasn't using valuable warehouse space to stockpile Hatchette books because they couldn't be guaranteed of returns due to no contract with Hatchette.

So AU published a letter in the New York Times re-stating Preston and Patterson accusations.

And nothing happened.

Well, that's not true. Only 900 writers rallied to their cause. Readers didn't care. And 8,000 writers and readers signed Hugh Howey and J.A. Konrath's letter thanking Amazon and readers for supporting them. [Disclosure: I signed Hugh and Joe's letter.]

So AU issued another letter Monday morning, this time to the Amazon board of directors. The Amazon BOD is going to care about as much as the readers do where the petty whining of a bunch of millionaire authors are concerned. Their responsibility is to their stockholders, and from the price of the stock, the stockholders like what they are doing ($322.57/share as I write this)

These authors' contracts are with Hatchette, not Amazon, so why aren't they nagging Hatchette to negotiate with Amazon?

Because if the writers do that, their contracts won't be renewed and they'll be blacklisted by the Big Five.

Or that's their fear anyway, because they can't conceive of forming their own companies to publish themselves. Therefore everything is Amazon and Chines blue collar workers' fault.

And they can't see that while they fight Hatchette's imaginary war for the publisher, we indies are taking over their market share.

Instead of fighting someone else's playground battles, Preston's group needs to take a hard look at what's happening around them. This isn't a war they can win.

In fact, the war's already over except for the dying.

[Note: If you want an really funny take on the AU letter, go read Jen Rasmussen.]

[Note 2: Apparently, the bitching by me and several other bloggers about the racist comment concerning Chinese blue-collar workers made Preston rethink his words and change the letter to the Amazon board. Now instead of insulting 1.5 billion people, he insults 7 billion. *rolls eyes* You would think someone who makes a living by writing understands how language works. Thanks to TPV regular Claire Ryan for the link to the original version via the WayBack Machine. LOL]

[Note 3: Oh, and he STILL hasn't fixed they typo in the first paragraph of the letter. So much for being the greatest authors in the U.S.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Death Spiral of Another Publisher

In 2000, Tina Engler started a little publishing company. Her sexy contemporary stories were constantly rejected by bigger publishers as too risque. The publishers claimed there was no market for contemporary, fantasy or sci-fi erotic romance. Tina proved them wrong when she launched Ellora's Cave.

Not only did Tina prove there was a market for those sub-genres, but she did something unique. She launched new stories as e-books first. If they proved popular enough, a paper version of the book was published. Remember, this was over ten years ago. Very few e-readers were on the market at the time, the most prominent manufacturer of which was Sony.

EC was the first erotica publisher to gain mainstream prominence. Their books were shelved in Borders and Barnes & Noble. They were getting noticed by financiers and mainstream press. EC was featured in Forbes. They were raking in the dough.

So why haven't EC editors and writers been paid for several months now?

That's the question on everyone's mind. Jane Litte at Dear Author provides a breakdown of the sequence of events. She believes incompetence and/or fraud is responsible for the tailspin EC finds itself in.  On top of salaries and royalties, state taxes haven't been paid. Writers are asking their fans NOT to buy their EC titles. Requests for reversions of rights go unanswered.

Unfortunately, the real life drama at EC sounds just like the sequence of events at other publishers and a certain retailer by the name of Borders Group, Inc., before they crashed.

First came the complaints from the occasional writer, who was subsequently labelled a troublemaker. Then came the late payments. Just a computer glitch; nothing to worry about. Layoffs of publisher staff, or reorganization as they called it. Royalty statements didn't match sales figures from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The payments stopped being late and didn't come at all. The smart writers got their lawyers involved in a desperate attempt to get their rights back. Some writers succeeded; other couldn't get their calls, letter or e-mails returned. Finally, the company collapsed and writers found their rights sold to another publisher.

Think I'm talking about EC? Nope, this was the exact sequence of events at Dorchester a few years ago.

We're seeing the same pattern over and over again in the current disruption of the publishing industry. EC is simply the latest.

And I fear Barnes & Noble may be next.