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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Writer Power: The Rebirth of the American Author

This week Ruth Harris gives us some powerful reasons to be happy about the ongoing changes in the publishing business.

"What?" sez you. "But we see such woeful lamentation and wringing of hands over the demise of the book industry."

It's true about the laments. Scott Turow, bestselling author and president of the Author’s Guild mourned “The Slow Death of the American Author” in an Op Ed the New York Times in April. And James Patterson took it one step further, paying for a full page ad in the NYT to ask for government help to "Save Our Books"  and bail out the beleaguered industry.

But not all established, bestselling authors think the upheaval in the book biz is a bad thing. Some, like Ruth Harris, think it's greatly needed.

Yes, the industry is going through epic changes. But it’s not a case of a healthy industry afflicted by a sudden plague of the Big Bad Ebooks. The industry has been unwell for a long time.

The system of returns—where every book in a brick and mortar store is sold on consignment and can be returned for a full refund—has been causing unsustainable financial drain for decades. Up to 40% of books printed are re-shipped, warehoused and then pulped when they don’t sell in an increasingly short period of time. Can you think of any other industry that willfully destroys nearly half its own product, then routinely blames the suppliers for their financial losses?

The book business was already in decline long before the ebook "revolution." In the 1990s the “Big and Nasty” chains like Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Books-a-Million—with their sweetheart deals with the Big 6 Publishers—put 1000s of indie bookstores out of business. Bestsellers were created with boardroom financial deals and paid-for store placement, not word-of-mouth from the wise and dedicated bookstore clerks of yore.

Then along came Amazon to "Kindle" a revolution.... and now the Big Bad Zon is accused of destroying the poor little bookstore chains (formerly known as Big-and-Nasty) and their partners, the supposedly in-need-of-a-bailout Big Six. (Two of which are now owned by Rupert Murdoch.)

But guess what’s happening in some of the old “dying” bookstore buildings? They’re being bought up by independent shopkeepers and bookstore owners. And the indie bookstore is making a comeback.

Yes, as Ruth says: “what goes around comes around.”

Some of the indie stores are selling Kobos and other ereading devices and doing very well with them. It turns out ebooks aren’t incompatible with indie bookselling after all. In fact, there's been a 27% increase in foot traffic to brick and mortar bookstores in the first quarter of this year.

Best of all, the ebook revolution has challenged the master/slave relationship that had been created between the big publisher and the lowly author.

Unlike Rex Pickett—author of the 2004 bestseller (and film) Sideways—today's indie and hybrid authors no longer have to sit in limbo for a decade while their agents and editors conspire to keep them in the dark and treat them with sadistic disrespect. Pickett  has documented his tale of abuse in a 3-part series in the HuffPo

Ruth Harris was a New York Times bestseller in those “good old days” of the '80s and '90s—as well as working as an editor at several of the Big Six houses—so she knows what she’s talking about here.

I think you’ll find what she says about those days enlightening. It should make you glad you're living and writing at this moment in publishing history.

Sorry Mr. Turow, American authors aren't suffering a "slow death." We are being reborn—as our own masters.

And big publishers aren't dying either. The "hybrid author" is the future. Publishers who respect their authors will survive. Bookstores who serve their customers, not a distant corporate office, will too. And agents who represent their actual clients, not Mr. Murdoch and co., will thrive.

But some may get a few lessons in Karma. Yeah, it does come back...

POWER SWITCH: Or, What Goes Around Comes Around
by Ruth Harris

Once upon a time, way back in the middle of the Twentieth Century, thriving bookstores
dotted the landscape. Wire racks crammed with tempting paperbacks stood in every drugstore, grocery store, supermarket, even in gas stations. Publishers—and there were lots of them, big and small—needed writers and the work they created to fill those bookstores and wire racks.

Lots of markets existed and lots of genres were routinely published. Editors & writers were colleagues who worked together coming up with new ideas or new twists on old ideas.

More contracts were signed, more books were published and sold, more writers were able to make a living. When that massive distribution went away, a power switch occurred: the writer lost and became a beggar shaking his/her alms cup hoping for a crumb, a penny, a kind word.

Over time, the writer was placed in the position of the abused, rejected, criticized and undermined child—even though the parent (the publisher) would aver how much they “loved” you. Out of that unequal relationship a demon’s brew of writer bitterness flowered.

Every book that didn’t sell up to expectations—basically just about every book published—was almost always the writer's fault.

Never mind that the ad/promo/pub budget ranged from miniscule to non-existent. Which is why most writers—at their own expense—hired their own PR reps.

  • Or that there was maybe a single ad (that’s if you were lucky enough to get an ad) was massively inadequate to the results desired. I can’t tell you how many times I was told “Ads don’t sell books.” With a straight face! And let’s not even talk about coop, lack thereof.
  • Or that the cover had nothing to do with book. Don’t believe me? Then talk to almost any TradPubbed writer and you’ll hear a litany of pain and missed opportunities.
  • Or that books weren't in book stores even as the writer (me & plenty of others) was ruining his/her health touring.
  • Or that no one bothered to use rave reviews to stir up excitement and interest. Those raves were filed away to languish in oblivion, never to see the light of day. 
  • Or that suggestions a writer (who you’d think might know something  about her/his own book) made about how to sell her/his book were routinely ignored.
  • Or that books—even books for which publishers competed & willingly paid large advances—were published more or less in secret, with little (or no) support from ads, publicity, promo.

Nope. Blame the writer

The book didn't sell so it must have sucked—even if the publisher willingly, eagerly paid a lot of money to acquire it. Even if the reviews were spectacular. Even if book clubs, paperback publishers, foreign publishers, and movie companies spent beaucoup to acquire the rights. In fact, by selling off sub rights and thus recouping the amount of the advance, publishers had even less motivation to aggressively sell the book in question.

The publisher’s solution to the lackluster sales: Move on to the next book, the next writer. Then blame that one, too.

And what did writers take away from the downbeat response, the blaming, the unreturned phone calls, the memos containing suggestions or requesting information that went answered? They began to feel that the criticism was deserved, the disappointment was their fault, and the way to a more rewarding outcome was to write a better book next time. Except, of course, no one knew exactly what a “better book” was.

Except for the time Michael Korda of Simon & Schuster apologized to me for a terrible DECADES cover, no publisher of mine (or anyone else’s that I know of) admitted their publishing effort had been lacking. When several of my books hit the NYTimes bestseller list, the response was not pride or pleasure. It was flowers (sometimes) followed by a pout: “But it didn’t sell as much as we thought.”

With the advent of e-publishing, a second huge switch has taken place, this time, with the power going back to the writer. Now it’s publishers who are feeling threatened, rejected, ignored, undervalued. We hear the howls, we see how much they like it and how desperate they feel—just the way writers used to feel.


How about you, scriveners? Have you believed the stories that things were better for writers and bookstores in the "good old days"? Have you ever been disrespected by your publisher or agent?

Book Deals This Week

Ruth's Million-Seller Modern Women is on sale this week for 99c:

"Author Ruth Harris' rapier wit spices up a coming-of-age-in-the-sexist-'60s story. Funny, sad, vivid, and more than raunchy enough to satisfy the most ribald appetites. Harris seeks to enliven and entertain, and she does it in spades. —The Cleveland Plain-Dealer

"Sharply and stylishly written." —Chicago Sun-Times

Ruth Harris's Park Avenue Box set is only 99c this week, too. Three New York Times Bestsellers for less than a dollar. Includes Ruth's bestselling Decades, which she mentions above. You can buy it here.

"DECADES an emotional blockbuster about three generations of American women, sold millions of copies in hard cover, paperback and ebook editions. Originally published by Simon & Schuster; revised and updated by the author for today's reader.

"Terrific!" --Cosmopolitan 
 "Absolutely perfect." --Publisher's Weekly 
 "Powerful. A gripping novel." --Women Today Book Club


1) Iron Writer Insane-a-Thon!

The Dreadful Cafe will hold their annual writing marathon on July 13, 2013. There are prizes for the most words written in a 24 hour period and for raising the most money for their charity, St. Jude's Hospital. It's a wild and crazy insane-a-thon for a great cause. More at The Dreadful Cafe. Send in your entry to submissions@dreadfulcafe.com before July 14th.

2) Spoonfuls of Stories Contest 

For new, unpublished writers of children's fiction. HUGE prizes for the winning stories for children age 2-6. This contest, sponsored by Cheerios, offers a $5000 grand prize and some hefty runners-up prizes too. More info at spoonfulsofstories.com  Deadline is July 31. 

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK 

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until June 30th, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions.

Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. This is an indie press with some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form.

5) The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com. If you want to know what they're looking for, check out this great story by Judy Croome, a long-time follower of this blog.

WE WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS--and apologize that we've had to exclude anonymous comments. Deleting the spam had become a full-time job. If you can't get Blogger to take your comment, email Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com. Thanks!

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Blogger mooderino said...

The response of the publishing industry is somewhat similar to that of the music industry a few years ago. Head in the sand, claims of unfairness, dire warnings of the end of all things. Turns out they were scared and confused and didn't want to have to learn new things. Fortunately life moved on without them.

Moody Writing

June 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Wonderful post as usual, Ruth. And as Anne said in the preface, "Publishers who respect their authors will survive." I have a great LGBT publisher at JMS Books and couldn't be happier. Or luckier. Thanks again, Ruth, for hitting the nail on the head.

June 2, 2013 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Catherine Ryan Hyde said...

The truth of the matter is that I really did believe my books were to blame for lack of sales. I didn't think they were horrible books, but I did think I was writing something that most readers didn't want. Until I started moving many tens of thousands of indie books directly to readers. Now I wonder why my publishers couldn't sell these books when it seems I can. It's quite an awakening. So true that they always say, "Your books are not selling." They never say, "We're not doing a very good job of selling your books."

June 2, 2013 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Moody mentioned the music industry, which went from major record label and radio and record store placement was the only way to survive to independent labels and bands, iTunes, and Pandora, where it was anybody's game. If the publishing industry can follow that trend, books and authors will be just as successful. And the consumer will benefit as well.

June 2, 2013 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Mooderino—thank you for the comment and the excellent comparison. I wonder if something similar is going on in the movie business where indie talent has moved to successful television careers and the indie film circuit has become a feeding platform for the traditional studios.

Paul—Thanks! So glad you've found a publisher who appreciates your work. An appreciated writer is a confident writer is a productive writer!

Catherine—You're making such a powerful point. Even if writers didn't think their books were lousy, we did think maybe readers weren't interested in what we wrote or that somehow—in a way no one ever explained—we had missed the boat. Even if we were bestsellers, we reminded of our "failures" when time to negotiate the next contract came along.

One of the things that used to drive me bonkers was that I went from 100% control when I was writing to 0% control when I was being published. Crazy-making!

Alex—Thanks for the comment and for the relevant analogy. You also bring up the important point that consumers will be among the winners as this revolution proceeds.

June 2, 2013 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Donna Hole said...

Interesting. I was never one to lament the book industry - I can't imagine books in some format not selling. Still a world of readers out there. Change is not easy, but sometimes necessary.

Thanks for the publishing tips Ruth. Hey, I'm over 50 :) Lets get some use out of the ripe age.

Have a good week ladies.


June 2, 2013 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Hi Donna—Thanks! Let's hear it for 50+!

The book business was always terrific—lively, interesting, creative—but also really frustrating, too. That has not changed!

June 2, 2013 at 12:50 PM  
OpenID governingana said...

Yet another great post.

I like what you say about blaming the author for lack of sales even when the publisher can't define what that "better book" might be. I, for one, am grateful to be published in today's market because I would never have gotten a traditional contract in the traditional print market 40, 20, or even 10 years ago. The ebook and indie book explosion has opened up spaces for niche books like mine. The flip side is that advertising/marketing can be more difficult. More competition.

I love that more indie bookstores are getting a chance.

June 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Ruth, is this something like "when everything old is new again" ?? I wonder if writers could turn back the clock knowing what they know now ... would they still do it? Would so many who have been empowered with their own backlist and finding out they can be at the helm ... would they now want to relinquish that for the prestige that was once thought possible with certain types of publishing?

Gone are the salad days? And gone is the myth that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I've seen a pack of old dogs learning amazing new tricks !! Loved this post and of course, thanks to you both for the links you provide each week :)

June 2, 2013 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

I like that what goes around comes around and now it's the Big 4-5-6 that are worried. Well, maybe not worried but scratching their heads.

I only published a few years ago, but I remember querying and all the agents said, "Well the writing is good but we can't sell it."
Seems kind of funny that I've been selling them.

I'd love to have the cache of New York behind me, but not at the cost of my sanity. I'll just keep on keeping on self-publishing.

Great post, Ruth.

June 2, 2013 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

governingana---thank you. "a better book " is a moving target. Impossible to hit. Drove everyone--writers & editors-- crazy because no one knew what it was much less how to hit it. The secret ingredient was and is luck.

Anne--thanks! Reality is the cache of NY is long gone. What they have now is a few mega best sellers, the "celebrity" book...Remember Snooki?...and the out of left field surprise big seller.

June 2, 2013 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Judy Salamacha's Blog said...

Ruth and Anne...verrrrrry inter-esting as it used to be repeated...in today's society we arrest people for verbal abuse and neglect...the publishers by your account were guilt of both and when you are beat down, ie. children of the whatever, you see yourself as unworthy, thus become unproductive...but as Anne says those who hang in, get it, work to reject the past and move on to a bright future, change it and get the last laugh. Thanks for this excellent discussion. I'd like to see a combo of your joint comments in Writers Digest or....good stuff. He's got, she's got, I've got mail....need to see that movie again!! Reverbs our industry history. Maybe Smashwords story is the basis for an update!! Screenwriters, get busy!

June 3, 2013 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Mays said...

I have been reading your blog for a few months now, and I absolutely LOVE it. You cut through the fog so well. You encourage me not to lose hope as a writer. Seems like every post is exactly what I needed to hear that week, and this one is no exception.

I've been quiet this long, but I just wanted to write and say thank you!

June 3, 2013 at 6:46 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Judy—Thank you for the kind words. Now that writers have alternatives, they don't have to tolerate that kind of treatment. Very liberating!

Jeffrey—Welcome and thanks for coming out of hiding! Just remember, when you're a writer, persistence is just about everything. :-)

June 3, 2013 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Johanna Garth said...

Ruth, this was such a great post. I've always believed that, despite the beleaguered industry, people want stories. That hasn't changed. What is in the process of upheaval is the way people get to those stories and the flow of money for production of those stories.

You're right! It's an amazing time to be a writer.

June 3, 2013 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Johanna—Thank you for the kind words. "What is in the process of upheaval is the way people get to those stories and the flow of money for production of those stories." Accurate and very well stated!

June 3, 2013 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Rosi said...

Very informative post. Thanks.

June 3, 2013 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rosi--thank you!

June 3, 2013 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Alicia Street said...

Spot on, Ruth! Wonderful post. And very therapeutic for those of us who've been through Trad hell.

June 3, 2013 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alicia—Ah, yes, Trad Hell. People who haven't been there have no idea! :-)

June 4, 2013 at 3:58 AM  
Blogger Corey Feldman said...

This is why I never so much as queried an agent or house.

June 4, 2013 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...


June 4, 2013 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Wonderful, informative and encouraging post. Change is good and often times needed. I work in an independent bookstore and I'm the one who does the returns. It is amazing the percentage of New Release books we return. We buy them with great hope that someone will want to take the chance on a 25 to 29 dollar book but... We have noticed the time lapse between hardcover release and paperback has shrunk. Used to reliably be a year. Now it seems to be happening at six months. Could become the new norm.

And I so appreciate Anne letting us know each week about new publishing opportunities. I just submitted my YA to Escargot. Why not!

June 4, 2013 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—Thanks for bringing up the subject of returns. Returns have been the bête noire of publishing just about forever. When I was working on the publishing side, we knew going in that (at least) 50% of everything we published would come back & there was nothing we could do about. Had to do with antique business practices completely out of our control. Books that publishers paid to print, publish & distribute ended up being pulped. Very discouraging so it's not just writers who were frustrated!

June 4, 2013 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Julie Valerie said...

As a reader, I feel liberated from the tyranny of a few publishing houses, a few big box retailers and a few book reviewers holding the fate of books, authors and readers in their clutch. Now mid-, small- and micro-publishers are bringing traditionally printed, ebooks and POD titles to readers who learn about the books not from the NYTimes but from book bloggers and friends on social media. Long live all things indie!

June 6, 2013 at 6:07 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Thank you for taking the time to comment. Liberation sure feels good, doesn't it? :-)

June 6, 2013 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger Debra Eve | Later Bloomer said...

What goes around does indeed come around. I remember lamenting the loss of several indie bookstores around Los Angeles to Borders and B&N. As for the trad publishing industry, well, sounds like they deserve their current pickle. That Rex Pickett story Anne mentioned is harrowing.

An acquaintance recently got dropped from St. Martin's for poor sales after her sixth novel with them. She calls their method of promoting mid-list authors "spaghetti strategy" -- throw them all against the wall and see if one sticks.

A real eye-opener, Ruth. Thanks!

June 6, 2013 at 11:24 PM  

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