Trollope On American Copyright Law

The following long quotation is from the Autobiography of Anthony Trollope, expressing his feelings about American piracy of British intellectual property in the year 1876. Trollope, one of the most popular novelists of the 19th century, on par with Dickens, also held a senior post in the British Postal Service (he invented the mailbox). Trollope was authorized to try to negotiate the entrance of America to an international copyright pact while he was here negotiating a postal treaty.

I fancied that I knew that the opposition to an international copyright was by no means an American feeling, but was confined to the bosoms of a few interested Americans [publishers who pirated English novels, MR]. All that I did and heard in reference to the subject on this further visit, and having a certain authority from the British Secretary of State with me I could hear and do something, altogether confirmed me in tis view. I have no doubt that if I could poll American readers, or American Senators, or even American Representatives, if the polling could be unbiased, or American Booksellers, that an assent to international copyright would be the result. The state of things is crushing to American authors, as the publishers will not pay them on a liberal scale, knowing that they can supply their customers with modern English literature without paying for it. The English amount of production so exceeds the American, that the rate at which the former can be published rules the market. It is equally injurious to American booksellers, except to two or three of the greatest houses. No small man can now acquire the exclusive right of printing and selling an English book. If such a one attempt it, the work is reprinted instantly by one of the leviathans, who alone are the gainers. The argument of course is that American readers are the gainers, that as they can get for nothing the use of certain property, they would be cutting their own throats were they to pass a law debarring themselves from the power of such appropriation. In this argument all idea of honesty is thrown to the winds. It is not that they do not approve of a system of copyright, as many great men have disapproved, for their own law of copyright is as stringent as ours. A bold assertion is made that they like to appropriate the goods of other people, and that as in this case they can do so with impunity, they will continue to do so. But the argument, as far as I have been able to judge, comes not from the people, but from the book selling leviathans, and from those politicians whom the leviathans are able to attach to their interests. The ordinary American purchaser is not much affected by slight variations in price. He is at any rate too high-hearted to be affected by the prospect of such variation. It is the man who wants to make money, not he who fears he may be called upon to spend it, who controls such matters in the United States. It is the large speculator who becomes powerful in the lobbies of the House, and understands how wise it may be to incur a great expenditure either in the creation of a great business, or in protecting that which he has created from competition.

While the copyright has long since expired on Trollope's works, his understanding of the politics of copyright remains fresh.

Interview With Publisher Bryan Rosner

From an interview with publisher Bryan Rosner, owner of BioMed Publishing Group, publisher of books on Lyme Disease treatment.

Did you do market research before publishing your first book, or only after
you were in the business?

The answer is yes and no. Yes because, as a result of my personal experience with Lyme disease, I was intimately involved in the Lyme community so I had a good pulse on what the needs were and what type of information would be well received. No because at that time, as a new self publisher, I was very naive and did not even know I was supposed to do market research. Having sold about 7,000 copies of my first book in 2.5 years, I suppose that my intuition about the market was fairly accurate. However, after a few bruises and lessons in my first few years publishing, I did a lot more market research for my second book which has sold 7,000 copies in just 8 months. Funny though, I still think the first book is a more valuable book. Just goes to show how important public perception is as it doesn't matter which book really is better, it only matters which book the market thinks is better. Nevertheless, I think my first book will be more of an evergreen title than my second book.

Did you look into distribution early, or strictly direct sales?

I was so new to the business that I had no idea how to look into distribution. All of my initial sales were direct, because that's all I knew how to do. I had a distant friend tell me about Yahoo Merchant Solutions so I set up an online store and went that route. Not because it was the best choice; instead because it was the only option I knew about. To this day still, the majority of my sales are direct from my website, which I am happy about in that I avoid the lost profit of trade discounts.

Two discoveries took me from what I would call a beginner publisher to a more competent publisher: The first was finding the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA), and the second was finding Morris Rosenthal's blog. God only knows how many headaches I could have avoided, and how much more money I would have made, had I known about these resources in the beginning of my career.

What did you spend on your initial print run, and how's your home warehousing
working out?

My first few print runs in 2005 were printed digitally through Fidlar-Doubleday. Little did I know that if I had gone with Lightning Source, I could have secured easy trade distribution. I printed a few hundred copies with Fidlar-Doubleday then quickly realized that demand justified offset printing. The first offset run was 1000 copies for about $3,800. These days I print about 1,500 copies at a time of my first book, and about 4,000 copies at a time of my second book. I use Data Reproductions for offset printing and pay about $2.5 / book.

In 2007 I spent about $8,000 on a 100 square foot outdoor storage shed complete with a $2,500 dehumidifier. I live in a 1,100 square-foot home and just ran out of corner-of-the-bedroom space, if you know what I mean. In hindsight I think it might have been more efficient to go with Lightning Source several years ago, but since I have been doing offset printing for so long, and you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I would say the shed is working out fairly well. When you look at the math, the shed will pay for itself in about 18 months given the $3 or $4 per book I now save in print costs in comparison with printing with Lightning Source. On the other hand, Lightning source has advantages which I am not currently enjoying, such as flexibility in setting a discount and direct access to Ingram. So the waters get a bit muddier when analyzing the situation. Another point to mention is that I do appreciate the higher production quality with offset printing in comparison with digital.

You mentioned using cardboard displays. What did the displays cost, how big are they, and have you considered sending some a few out without checking first, just to see how it goes?

The displays run about $15/unit including all costs, shipped and delivered
to the store. They hold 6 books and have a catchy graphic on the front of the
box which I designed. I have not considered sending them to stores unsolicited, although that is maybe a good idea. I have always tried to cut costs where
possible and that seems like a risky expense. I am quickly finding that you
could easily blow a whole year's profit on experimental marketing efforts.
Hence the importance of expert direction in how marketing dollars are spent,
e.g., Rosenthal's advice on the futility of print-space advertising (which I
have found, after about $5,000 wasted, to be completely true).

Why are you considering POD?

I am considering POD not to replace my offset printing business model as I am currently just too entrenched in offset printing to dig myself out. Plus, my main titles sell well enough, I think, to justify offset printing. I am interested in POD because I am publishing several new titles for several new authors, and there are a number of factors which cause POD to be much more desirable for these new books. Here are a few points I am considering.

1. POD frees up my time and warehouse space and spares me the headaches of handling printing and distribution. This lifted burden will allow me to take on more new authors and publish more new titles.

2. POD gives me automatic access to Ingram, which I have historically been able to gain through BCH Distribution Services but which is a pain in the butt with regard to keeping track of their inventory, shipping them stock, and that type of thing.

3. POD through Lightning Source allows me flexibility in setting the trade discount, and having been listening a lot lately to what Aaron Shepherd and Morris Rosenthal talk about, this seems to be a key point in profitability, although I am presently struggling with what I consider to be an ethics-based question of whether I am acting in my new author's best interests to not offer the full 55% trade discount

Backups And Guest Bloggers

I lost about an hour's worth of work yesterday when Word froze up on me and it turned out the automatic backup hadn't been functioning properly. I've done quite a bit of preaching about proper backups, so I was a bit taken aback when I found out I'd not only lost my revisions, but the chapter I'd been editing. My strange system for working on this book involves cutting the chapter I'm going to work on out of the old file, pasting it into the new file, and editing it. Between one save working and the other failing, I ended up with the chapter missing from both files. Fortunately, I found backup from December that was saved as an attachment in my Yahoo! mail account, and believe me, I was relieved it was there.

I've been thinking again of inviting on some guest bloggers or doing interviews, as a different form of blogging backup. My blogging output has fallen all the way to around a post a week because I'm busy and saving my eyes for real work. I'm more inclined to the interview approach than the guest blogger approach, because I'd hate to solicit a post from somebody and then have to tell them I didn't want to use it for whatever the reason. Within the realm of interviews, I'm leaning towards e-mail interviews, in part because it prevents misunderstandings, and in part because it saves typing.

So, if you're interested in answering a few questions about your self publishing business on my blog, either drop me a note directly or post a comment with a way to contact you. Just don't be surprised if the questions I ask aren't necessarily the ones you would have chosen to discuss if you were doing a guest blogger post in the traditional sense.

What I think would be most interesting to my readers is people who don't follow the short discount approach that I push for new publishers getting their feet wet. It would be more interesting to hear from publisher doing the traditional distribution or direct sales route, or using POD but going with the 55% discount, returns, and pushing for bookstore sales. It won't make you famous, but at least you'll get a decent link to your website:-)

Too Busy Writing To Blog

I'm getting obsessed with the new book I'm working on, and it's making me jealous of my time. So I'm going to be lazy this week and post a couple of blog comments that I've rejected, along with why.

Comment posted to The Secret of Self Publishing Success

hadn't heard of replica before. Who are they?

Fair question, I just hate comments that don't start with a capital letter and I can't edit them. Replica belongs to Baker&Taylor, the large book distributor/wholesaler that focuses primarily on libraries and schools. Their deal was similar to that offered by Lightning Source, but with access to Baker&Taylor rather than Ingram. But they never got around to setting up a website that I know of, and I'm told they make small publishers jump through some hoops to get signed up. Everybody I know who has used them was happy enough with the outcome, but found the process incredibly clunky.

Comment posted to Starting A Publishing Company Revisited

I would really like to tell you that I'm doing it! My book is 100% returnable, 55% discounted and of course listed with Ingram. I went through Lightning.

I call stores on my own. I've been doing it since October and so far, I'm in about 50 stores accross the U.S. Most short order, but I've had nearly a dozen offers for signings. Some I could do some I couldn't.

Anything can be done if tenacity, grit and drive are involved. This is just the beginning for me.

Doin' it!

Great comment, I just didn't see the point of it getting wasted on an ancient blog post nobody reads!

Comment posted to Romance Novel Sales

Nice rant. Romance sales will always look low in the larger scheme of things because you can pick em up for $5 each. Problem is, almost every female has one good romance in her...One. But if romance is gonna be the chosen genre, then go with a publishing house. At least that way you MIGHT make some money rather than loosing it.

I didn't post it because I didn't see the point of the oversimplification. The vast majority of authors who contact me would love to "go with a publishing house" but they can't get a trade publishing house to go with them.

In any case, it's clear that I don't really "get" the whole blog thing, in the sense that I'm not interested in making my website a destination for people to argue it out about controversial issues. I delete any such messages from the moderation queue without a qualm.

Hope you're all having as productive a month as I am so far.

Pen Names And Self Publishers Anonymous

Many of the self publishers I know write under one or more pen names. I occasionally get questions about the legality of this, whether or not it interferes with copyright. It doesn't matter to the copyright office if you want to use a pen name, they even make special provision for it, but they do advise that you don't use the pen name as the claimant. Having a fictional identity as the claimant may lead to difficulties if you need to defend the copyright from infringement, unless you're only interested in make-believe damages.

But pen names can be self defeating for self publishers, who have usually base their reputation on their name, rather than the name of their publishing company. I sometimes advise self publishers not to use their own name for their publishing company just to get past the snob hurdle of, "Oh, you published your own books", and it would certainly strike me as a little backwards to name your press after yourself and then to write under a pen name. But enough self publishers use pen names that my little lecture on the subject turned into my longest video yet:

Reputation and self promotion are so tied up in selling books that a pen name can only be useful if it goes along with a real person who can meet and greet, at least virtually. I'm always amazed when I hear from self publishers who think that anonymity is both a goal and a necessary ingredient for success. You aren't "getting away with something" by self publishing your books, and the only way you'll remain anonymous is if you fail. If nobody has ever heard of your books then they'll never have heard of you or your pen name and your anonymity will be safe. Doesn't strike me as much of a goal.

Promoting your books doesn't have to be a full time job, but it's not a job you can hide from if you want to make a living. It's not just about standing on a chair and yelling "listen to me", you have to convince people that you're somebody worth listening to, or reading. Your name is how people identify "that author I like" when they are shopping for fiction, or "the author who knew his stuff" when they are shopping for nonfiction. If you go the multiple pen name route, you are dividing your credibility over a number of reputations, just as if you put a bunch of websites online and divided up your PageRank. So before you rush into using a pen name without needing to, remember the famous words of that guy in the video. "You can fool illiterate people with a pen name, but they don't buy books."

Stagflation Proof Your Publishing Business

I generally keep my serious blog (this) separate from my rantings about the economy and inflation, but economic cycles are a part of life for publishers and authors as much as other businesses. The ogre overhanging the economy that presents the scariest scenario for Wall Street and middle America alike is stagflation. Stagflation is inflation without corresponding economic growth, meaning a genuine contraction is economic activity and the value of money. Your publishing business may be vulnerable to both unwelcome visitors, loss of sales and diminution of the asset base that allows you to live and work as a self publisher.

The solution to the first problem, the loss of sales, is obvious, if you are a larger publisher or have the flexibility as a self publisher to work in different fields. The way to build sales during an economic downturn is to publish books that do well when the economy does poorly. For the nonfiction publisher, it's an excellent time to produce doom-and-gloom books about the stock market, the housing bubble and the soon to be broke entitlement programs. But looking beyond the obvious, it's also a good time to get going on those titles about living inexpensively, fixing credit problems, getting out of debt and dealing with bill collectors. It's a good time to write books about what inflation really is, and how to protect assets from melting away like a snowman in July.

Books with "frugal" in the title will do well, and certain DIY (Do-It-Yourself) titles will see a resurgence as consumers who are used to replacing failed household appliances with new or calling up a $50/hour repairman will start thinking twice about the expense. Books assigning blame for the economic problems will also be popular. But my advice to self publishers to stick with niche titles until they are established still stands. Avoid the grand themes and write books that address a specific problem with useful solution written in understandable language for the novice and you should earn some sales.

The second problem is one that is faced by successful self publishers, those of us who have bought some breathing room through our efforts and have grown used to working without the pressure of wolves at the door. The only truly inflation proof investment I'm aware of is to put your money into something in which you hold the pricing power. The only way of doing this is to own the business, otherwise, you can't make the decisions. Rather than plowing all of your savings into a local restaurant and trying to raise the prices to keep pace with inflation, I'd recommend refocusing on your publishing business, perhaps co-authoring some books if necessary, to grow your list. As a publisher, you can always raise your own prices with sufficient notice and a quick cover redesign, and if the economy truly encounters stagflation, your customers will expect to pay more.

But perhaps the main point I'd like to remind myself and my publishing friends of is to beware that knowledge has a time value. What we all "know" about publishing in the mid 1990's through mid 2000's time frame may no longer hold true going forward. I've been involved in small businesses as long as I've been working, almost 30 years now, and I've seen many a small business fail by sticking with their business plan despite changes in the market. The final nail in the coffin is often a desperate attempt to prop up the old business model with advertising. Don't panic because your publishing business stops growing, or even sees declining sales. Try to see your complete economic picture, and ask yourself if you're better off than you were five or ten years ago. If you keep producing quality titles and weather the down-turn, at some point in the future, you'll see windfall profits when the economy picks up. Unless, that is, you've shifted your entire title list to books about the end of capitalism:-)

Answers For An Unpublished Chidren's Book Author

Call it laziness, but rather than writing a post today, I'm just going to paste in my side of a correspondence with an unpublished children's book author, with a few facts changed to protect the guilty. I think it's useful, because unlike many correspondents, she didn't simply change her wording and ask the same question over and over again. The challenge is to figure out the questions I'm responding to.

(In Response to Question #1)

So you are focused on subsidy publishers, who charge to publish a book? The odds of your ever earning back the money you spend are low if you go that route. Have you tried submitting the book to the regular trade publishers? Trade publishers pay you and sell books, rather than the other way around.

(In Response to Question #2)

None of the subsidy publishers get your books on store shelves, whether you pay them or not. The only way your book will end up on store shelves is if you sign with a trade publisher who promotes it, or you promote the heck out of it yourself.

(In Response to Question #3)

My own objection to Publisher X is based on their contract which takes the rights from the author for a fixed period of time and their control over the pricing, not their performance, which is essentially identical with that of the other large subsidy presses.

(In Response to Question #4)

So you should invest in a book about subsidy publishers if you're set on that route. Try The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: The Contracts & Services of 48 Major Self-Publishing Companies--Analyzed, Ranked & Exposed by Mark Levine.

(In Response to Question #5)

I avoid telling people what to do, but I can tell you that you haven't done anything wrong yet if you haven't signed any contracts, or checks. If you're doing this in the dream sense, like buying a lottery ticket and hoping you win at publishing, it may be worth a few hundred dollars to you to pay a subsidy press to publish the book. But it won't sell unless you work hard at marketing it, and there's plenty of competition. If you feel the book is really publication quality, I would invest your efforts in trying to find a legitimate trade publisher.

Second E-mail

(In Response to Question #1)

Who was that? In any case, they aren't a traditional publisher by definition since they asked for $3,000. I can't put this any stronger. Traditional publishers pay authors and do not solicit or accept payments from authors. Most traditional publishers pay an advance on royalties upon contract signing as well.

(In Response to Question #2)

Oh, X is an expensive subsidy press, not sure who told you they were traditional. I hope you aren't believing every advertisement you read on the Internet.

(In Response to Question #3)

It sounds like you are going about this at random, which won't work. For starters, buy a copy of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2008 by Alice Pope. This is the main reference for authors trying to sell children's books. It lists all of the publishers, their submission guidelines, and their specific interests. You must follow the guidelines or they will ignore you. You might try my friend Aaron Shepard's short book The Business of Writing for Children as well. Most importantly, slow down, study up on the subject, and understand that having written a book is only the first step, and often the easiest step, on the path to becoming a published writer. If you rush, you'll just throw away your money and end up feeling like an idiot.

Third E-mail

(In Response to Question #1)

Reading author's manuscripts and giving an opinion isn't something I've ever been willing to do, and I'm not going to start now:-) I'd also warn you against people who offer to read the manuscript for a fee.

(In Response to Question #2)

I don't understand the desperation aspect. After you study up on how to propose a book to real trade publishers, create a list of those who might be interested, send out 10 query letters a week for a year and get nothing but rejections, it might be time to feel desperate. As near as I can tell, you haven't even started to fight yet.

BTW, if you want opinions, the best thing to do is find and join a local writers group. Ask at your library if they know of any.


Book Trailers And Acting Lessons For Authors

My last video was so lame that I thought I'd dedicate a post to professionally produced videos for publishers and authors. The subject initially came up last week when I "did lunch" with a friend who's gone on to become a professional actor working in NYC, and I asked him if he knew any acting coaches who work with authors trying to build an online presence. No, I'm not interested in acting lessons myself, I just thought it would make an interesting topic for a blog post. He didn't know anybody off-hand, but didn't think the idea was far-fetched.

Then this morning I saw a new subscriber to my publishing videos, who turned out to be none other than Circle of Seven Productions, a pioneer of book trailers and the owner of a registered trademark for the term "book trailers." A brief aside on trademark law. I've been informed by both lawyers and by a friend who's been involved in trademark litigation that trademarks formed from common English words that express the plain meaning of those words put together are "weak" trademarks. Trademarks, like patents, are easier to file than to enforce. But then again, I'd need more than a few acting lessons to convince anybody that I understand anything about the law:-)

In any case, I'll let Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven, explain the book trailer concept:

I watched a number of the book trailers, quite a few seemed to be about vampires for some reason, but maybe vampire romance novels make up the bulk of contemporary fiction. I like how they use zooming, panning and a sound track to introduce life into what would otherwise be still images and captions, like the Ken Burns style of documentary. The trailers all tended to the short side, around a minute, the longest one I watched didn't exceed two minutes. The more popular trailers also tended to show a lot of skin, giving them something in common with movie trailers.

I'd heard of book trailers before but I'd never taken the time to watch one, so it made for an interesting half hour break from working. But I'm not sure I would be in a hurry to advocate videos about books as a marketing tool for the simple reason that they seem to require marketing themselves. In other words, if you make a video about your self published book, nobody is going to go and watch it unless you have a way of telling them to go and watch it. If the video has a sexy enough title and delivers on that promise, maybe it could garner interest on YouTube, but there's a tremendous amount of competition in the titillation business.

Otherwise, the only way the author would have of drawing attention to the book trailer would be to promote it. Whether promoting videos about a book is a more efficient form of marketing than promoting the book itself is doubtful, but it's true that a trailer can promoted in video related forums where book promotion would be misplaced. For authors who are putting all of their eggs in the social networking basket, a book trailer may turn out to be a useful egg. For authors who have already made their bones, book videos may be the equivalent of the image ads corporations run just to remind you that they exist. I'm trying hard not to say anything conclusive because I just don't have the facts in hand. It does appear that my publishing channel on YouTube draws more viewers than I directly send from my site. If anybody who's had any direct experience with book trailers as a marketing tool for self publishers wants to enlighten me, I'm all eyes.