Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Authors Guild

Oh my. The Authors Guild sent out a long email citing the New York Times story on Barnes & Noble as great journalism and buying into the misguided notion that B&N is the great hope for book publishing's future.

The email came from "staff" and replies probably go into a dead-letter box, but I replied anyway. The original email is way too long to reproduce, but suffice to say it reflects the Big Six attitude of viewing Amazon as the enemy. (The text is available on the Authors Guild blog.) I shouldn't be surprised, since the AG board consists of big-name franchise authors who have a vested interest in the current system, even though they pretend to defend the little-guy author and a system that has served neither readers nor authors well.

Here is my reply, beginning with one particularly naive quote from the email:

Established authors, for the most part, do fine selling through online bookstores. It’s new authors who lose out if browsing in bookstores becomes a thing of the past. Advances for unproven and non-bestselling authors have already plummeted, by all accounts. Literary diversity is at risk.
What planet are you living on? What new authors are you talking about -- the lucky few that scrape through a series of middlemen to finally get into print?

Wake up Authors Guild! If you continue to betray a bias as representatives of established authors who have a vested interest in a flawed and doomed system, you will go down with that system. There is a whole new class of authors -- independent authors -- who will also need the kind of neutral assistance the Authors Guild can provide.

I published three books with mainstream publishers -- Doubleday and Dutton. I couldn't find a publisher for my latest novel so I self-published in POD and ebook. I listed for distribution everywhere and Amazon was the only outlet that sold any ebooks. So it was a no-brainer to sign up for KDP Select when Amazon offered it.

Amazon is the future of book publishing, so stop treating it like the enemy. It is the enemy only of legacy publishers and their franchised bestselling authors -- who of course dominate the Authors Guild board. Don't pretend to be representing me when you cling to B&N. Amazon will find competition, but not from an inefficient dinosaur like B&N, which has done more than any institution to narrow the midlist market by centralizing purchasing and often not buying a single copy of newly published books for any one of its 700 stores.

I'm astonished at the insouciance and naivete of this email. The Authors Guild has done a lot of good work for writers, and I've been happy to be a member. But I will need to see some evidence that you have a clue about where book publishing is going before I renew my membership the next time my dues are up.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Title time

It's possible to write a book with just a working title, but I think the sooner you have the title, the better -- and the easier. I waited too long, I think, to settle on the title for The Grand Mirage and it was hard at that point to actually figure it out (and then retrofit the title into the book).

Working titles are easy. They are one word and it only has to speak to me. Mirage, for instance, was called Orient, which told me what I needed to know but couldn't be used in the title because most people now associate Orient with the Far East. I thought of Orientalist as the title, but that didn't really solve the problem and the biography of Kurban Said had just come out with that title.

So now I'm working on the sequel to Mirage -- or really the next in the series. My first idea was one set in Cairo (working title: Cairo) and involving oil, tentatively titled Black Sands. I liked that because, as with The Grand Mirage, it directly evoked the desert. I may get back to that but in the meantime I feel more inspired to have the next one set in the Levant (working title: Levant, you see how it goes). Unfortunately, as I've noted in a related blog, this concept doesn't seem to be commonly known in the U.S. So any title like Shadows on the Levant would not resonate the way I would like.

I'm beginning to understand why many of Alan Furst's titles are so vague (Night Soldiers, Kingdom of Shadows, Red Gold, The World at Night, Dark Voyage). They are evocative but evanescent and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't remember which title goes with which plot. I can't even remember which ones I read. Some of the others (Spies of the Balkans, The Spies of Warsaw) are literally easier to place, but betray a certain lack of imagination. His forthcoming book apparently is titled Mission to Paris.

In fact, one of the titles I considered for Mirage along these lines was Caravan to Baghdad. So in the sequel I should forget Levant and think about the names of some cities involved, such as Damascus and Beirut (Smyrna and Alexandretta probably don't have sufficient name recognition). Combining this with some evocative concept like "shadows" or "winds" may do the trick, but something more concrete may be called for. We'll see.