Litopia

We’re delighted you’re here! You’re just a few clicks away from joining the ‘net’s oldest community for writers… and certainly the friendliest. Click the “Register” button to create a free account. See you in the Colony!

  • Clichés & Tropes! Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em! Share your opinion in the latest Craft Chat, live now until Saturday

New Year Message – And A Gift

Flash Club Contest! January Flash Club Contest

YEAH, no...

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
LV
0
 
Dear Litopians,

This is probably the longest letter I’ve ever sent you, and I’m sure your inbox is already groaning under New Year bloat, but – do read to the end since it covers quite a few important topics. Added incentive – there’s a special offer below, too :)

This letter is partly about what you can expect from Litopia this year. However, I can’t really do that without referring to the wider publishing industry context, so I’m dusting off my crystal ball too.

Bigger & Better: Pop-Up Submissions

Will go from strength to strength. At the end of last year we opened up a Publishers’ Portal for editors to review winning submissions and make comments and offers. Britain’s National Film and Television School, whose alumni include the cream of today’s leading film and TV directors, are making a promotional video for us as part of their Diploma students’ final year project. The format of Pop-Ups will develop in interesting new ways this year: but the Genius Room – which includes all Litopians – will continue to be the beating heart and soul of what we do. So don’t miss a show! We’re back this Sunday, 8th January at 5pm UK / 12 noon EST.

Free This Saturday: Huddle Open House

For the whole long, dreary experience of lockdown, Litopia’s Huddle was open to all members, Full or Basic (i.e. free). This Saturday, we’re once again opening up to everyone, which will give you a perfect opportunity to see what the heck goes on in there and why so many people consider it to be a vital part of their writing life. A reminder: if you do join us – and I hope you will – you’ll be subject to strict confidentiality. What happens inside the Huddle stays in the Huddle, no exceptions. You can’t quote anyone’s words outside of the Huddle… that’s how we create a safe environment for writers and their words. Register here if you’d like to join us this Saturday 7th January, from 4:30pm onwards.

Topic: What Shall We Do About The Mid-List?

I’m using the term “mid-list” to refer to anything that’s conventionally published that isn’t “lead title”. To be pedantic, “mid-list” actually has a rather narrower definition, but let’s not get bogged down by semantics. Here’s my point. It’s one of publishing’s dirty-but-open secrets that the lion’s share of publishing resources are lavished on a minority of lead title books. Everything else on a typical publisher's list – probably the other 80% or so – will only receive cursory attention and little in the way of marketing support.

For most first-time authors, this doesn't initially appear to be such a big deal. After all, it’s flattering to be published by a “name” publisher, isn’t it? It validates you as an author.

But that’s short-term thinking. As the years and manuscripts roll by, most mid-list authors will never rise to the ranks of lead title status. They stagnate, with sales never reaching the threshold that allows them to live on their earnings. The resentment builds.

This is an enormous challenge for us in the traditional publishing industry. If we don’t do better for the mid-list author, then we really will only have ourselves to blame if authors slowly realize that self-publishing is a better option, and the mid-list gradually atrophies.

There is no quick-fix solution to this issue, but it’s a conversation we really need to have – and we will.

Memo To Everyone: Yes, You Should Develop Self-Publishing Skills

For a while now, Litopia has been “agnostic” in terms of its position re traditional publishing or self-publishing. It all depends on a wide range of factors and considerations. What suits Jane may not suit John.

Realistically, successful self-publishing is hard. Don’t be misled by the slew of “easy money” self-pub courses and aggressively-marketed online products that are cluttering the landscape. As your own publisher, you will face exactly the same range of challenges that traditional publishers do – usually without the skills or resources they have.

However, my own view is that every author needs to learn the basic skills of self-publishing, even if you only ever intend to go the traditional publishing route. It will make you a better, more-informed author. Over the course of this year, you will see Litopia start to give you the tools to do so. It’s going to be an exciting journey for us all!

Keynote For The Year: Portable Contracts – The Time Has Come

So here’s another murky secret that the traditional publishing industry needs to confront before it bites us all in the bum. Years ago, when publishing was analogue and the most radical threat we ever faced was the advent of the paperback book, author contracts existed for the duration of copyright (70 years after the author’s death in the UK) and that was fine and dandy.

Today, it’s not so fine. Imagine you’re an author with a few books under your belt, but poorly published (see mid-list above) with a lacklustre agent. What are you going to do about it – indeed, what can you do? Well, unless the publisher and/or agent are generous enough to remove themselves from your contracts (i.e. to revert) then… absolutely nothing. You are utterly stymied. Your books are dying of neglect, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’ve seen too many authors in this situation, and it’s tragic. The answer, I believe, is to bring in something I’m going to call “portable contracts”. Contracts that permit you to move publishers, or agents, after a specified period of time, or subject to certain conditions of performance.

Yes, this may hurt those publishers or agents (usually the more sclerotic operations) who make a substantial passive income simply by sitting on top of publishing contracts and doing little in return. Well… too bad.

Giving authors the right to move their contracts to more dynamic agents or publishers will greatly stimulate the market. As far as agents are concerned, it will encourage new growth and new talent. Older literary agencies make most of their income passively: from sitting on contracts that are often many decades old. Too often, success as a literary agency simply represents the amount of time you (or often your parents or grand-parents) have stuck around in the business. It says little about how good you are at looking after your authors. Let’s shake this up a bit – the entire industry can only benefit.

I’ll be taking every possible opportunity to float this idea during the course of the year. If you agree with me, please do the same. Meanwhile, if you possibly can, avoid signing a contract that involves giving away your rights for the term of your work’s copyright.

Opportunity: Why Audiobooks Must Go Streaming

I don’t entirely like what I’m going to write here... but (a) it’s clearly inevitable and (b) if we’re clever we can use it to our own advantage. If you’ve ever gotten into audiobooks as a consumer, you'll relate to what I’m going to say: audiobooks ought to be on every streaming platform just like music.

Ouch. That’s going to decimate one of the few robustly-remaining sources of authorial income, right? Well, yes. It will roughly do to authors’ income what the likes of Spotify did to musicians. Which is not pretty. So why should I be arguing in favour of this?

Well from the consumer’s point of view, the argument is unassailable. When you really get into audiobooks, they become part of your daily life. Buying them one-off makes no sense at all. You want a book at bedtime, every bedtime… but you don’t want to pay twenty bucks for each one! Neither do you want a mere one book per month for a $14.95 subscription. What you want is access to everything – for an affordable monthly subscription.

Amazon’s Audible operation is clearly moving in this direction in any case, which I think testifies to its inevitability. The world is moving this way, so for once let’s get in front of the curve.

Where I think this year’s opportunity lies is in genre-specific markets. Just as some of the biggest bestselling books of recent years have arisen from the humble ranks of genre-based fan fiction, so too can consumers’ unquenchable demand for audiobooks be leveraged to break out brand new authors… within their own genres. Whether fan-driven or publisher-driven, there is clearly an opportunity to feed consumer demand for genre-specific audiobooks… either simply as a way to launch a new author, or as a way to transform listenership from the low hundreds into five or six figures… or more. We know from our industry’s e-book experience that consumer demand is highly sensitive to price. Make them an offer they can’t refuse, for all the genre audiobooks they can eat, and watch the numbers explode. Who will do this first? I’d like to think that maybe one of the more progressive publishers will… or maybe a collaboration of genre authors. The opportunity is there for the plucking.

Gratitude: Use This Coupon Now!

I don’t have to tell you that this is going to be a very challenging year for a very large number of people. Litopia’s Basic membership is free, and offers a huge amount of support and facilities for writers who are under financial pressure. For those who can afford our modest yearly Full Membership, you’ll find that the sheer value we offer this year will simply grow and grow.

As you know, Litopia’s ethos is one of self-help. Which is why we encourage members to gift a Full Member Upgrade to any member who may not be in a position to afford it for themselves.

Try it! You'll get a warm glow of satisfaction :) And you can do it anonymously, too.

Use this coupon code to get a 25% discount on a Gift Upgrade:

LOVE25


Gift Upgrades give six months of Full Membership to your recipient and do not renew – it’s not a recurring subscription. There are two ways to do it…

Go to any post they’ve made and simply click on their name. This will show a pop-up box. Then click on “GIFT UPGRADE” and follow the instructions. Check the “Gift Anonymously” box if you so choose, and complete the payment process.

Or, you can go to the Account Upgrade Control panel. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and where it says “Gift Upgrade” enter the member’s name. Click “Proceed” and follow the instructions.

To watch a how-to video click here. This offer expires on 21st January so do it now!

And Finally…

This is such an exciting time to be a writer. The future is challenging… even a little bit scary… but bristling with opportunity and potential. Let’s take this journey together :)

Peter
 

Jazzissimo

Full Member
LV
0
 
Dear @AgentPete

WOWZA! The following is a long message. Verbosity does seem to be my long suit. :p That being said, I feel that the momentous doings at hand demand it. Therefore, with apologies, here we go:

In the world of prose publishing, I am a neophyte indeed. A mere babe in the woods trying to find his way. Or, as they say in the U.S. south: "I'm just a squirrel tryin' ta git a nut!" But sadly, in the world of music publishing and the vanished revenue stream of recorded music, I have way too much experiential knowledge (cue the small violin here) I write this as a voice crying in the wilderness to offer up my sincere warning (with great respect) to you and all the movers and shakers in the book publishing business to NOT follow the example of recorded music!

When I started out in the music business during the end of the Twentieth Century, there was a wonderful (albeit it corrupt) infrastructure in place for aspiring artists. A young (or old!) creative soul could create compelling content as a performer or a composer, or both, and it would then behoove the record labels to find these talents, sign them to a record deal and put that label's substantial resources into play to help develop the artist's career. They did all of this of course because if the artist made a great record and the record company marketed it porperly, the label could make giant money. And this was all because the public had to PAY for music to hear it. Yes, there was radio, but that was loaded with commecial ad time, DJ nonsense, and a playlist that wasn't always what the customer wanted to hear. Therefore, the general public HAD to go to a record store and actually purchase the music to listen to their favorites at a time of their choosing. The record labels would even sponsor a tour so the artists could promote the album and drive up sales. But the tour wasn't the main event, the record was! Even though we all moaned that the labels quite often ripped off the artists and treated them badly, it was LIGHT YEARS better than what we have now. And what do we have now? Recorded music is a completely and totally FREE commodity. Any piece of recorded music that is associated with a label (major or indie) AUTOMATICALLY puts all of its product onto YouTube where anyone can hear it for free. For ease of creating playlists and the convenience of use on multiple devices, the streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple or Amazon Music provide unlimited music for a small monthly fee. Ninety percent or more of the music creators and performers don't see ANY of this money! Behold the results of the worst business model in the history of humankind:

View attachment 14509

YIKES! Yes, those are ACTUAL numbers. I've seen this chart many times before and the statistics are always this drastic. I transcribed this particular iteration of the "chart of doom" from an online article by Jefri Yanata that you can read here: Headphonesty In this article Jefri discusses that–even though these stream payouts are so incredibly small–the platforms still pay artists their proper royalties to stream the music. However, this process happens for the 1% or less of mega artists still supported by major record lables (think Adelle, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, etc) For them, even though it is smaller than it used to be, royalties, mechanical licenses, and huge download numbers result in significant payouts. But for the 99% of artists (such as li'l ol' me) the only way for our music to even be heard is to put our product on these platforms ourselves for free. This is the music world's version of self-publishing, and it results in ZERO or a little above zero financial returns. In the Twenty First Century, the only way that a music artist can make any money at all is by touring. And that tour has to be year-round to make even a modest-to-poverty level income. This is all a very honest and accurate picture painted by first-hand experiential knowledge of the "music business" these days I am sad to report. Can anything be done about it? Well, for the twenty years or so that I have left on this mortal coil, I will do my part to find out.

Coming back to the FAR better world of book publishing...I believe that you guys (says the musician who really wants to join that club!) are still in a good place! Yes, no doubt things could be much better as you say in your message, and there are indeed ominous signs of change on the horizon (or closer!) but I implore you to not go the route of streaming services for audio books. If it goes the way that music streaming has, then authors will see their works available to a mass public for a small monthly subscription, yes. But I fear that will result in some dire things (if it follows what has happened in music) these dire things are as follows:
  1. Publishers will receive a nice payout to place their author's work on these platforms
  2. The number of major publishers will decrease dramatically
  3. Independent small publishers with no ability to help their authors will rise dramatically
  4. The platforms will pay royalties to the publishers for said content
  5. The publisher-anointed authors will see a rise in their visibility among readers
  6. The vast majority of authors will need to put their works on the platforms for free
  7. Hard copy book sales will drop to an almost nonexistent level
  8. "Brick and mortar" book stores will start closing, perhaps to be replaced by cult fan-level boutique shops in small numbers as record stores are today
  9. It will become virtually impossible for most authors to make a sustainable living income via writing
  10. The general public will revel in this new method of acquiring books and will demand said more and more for free.
At the very least, if the scenario you describe comes to pass for the book publishing industry, I can see that you do have the opportunity to put together a better situation than the deal with the devil that devastated the music world. If you, the agents and publishers, forge a true contract where the author is protected and has a real seat at the table, then I believe the new world of streaming audio books could work. That contract would need to be something on the order of what hard copy book publishing contracts are now (or so I've heard :p) Meaning a proper and significant split of all profits between the author, agent, and publisher. Also, a FAR better version of the dreadful music payout chart above needs to be devised for the audio book streaming.

Good luck in this brave and frightening endeavor, Sir. And I hope that all the other players in this game are as honest, trustworthy, and true as you obviously are.:heart:
 

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
LV
0
 
But sadly, in the world of music publishing and the vanished revenue stream of recorded music, I have way too much experiential knowledge (cue the small violin here) I write this as a voice crying in the wilderness to offer up my sincere warning (with great respect) to you and all the movers and shakers in the book publishing business to NOT follow the example of recorded music!
A few years ago, there was a steady stream of fugitive execs (most of them not very talented) from the music biz to the publishing biz… all claiming to have seen the digital future and to be able to guide the book business towards that bright shining light. Most of them departed pretty soon, the culture clash was ugly.

So we’re not necessarily going to do everything the music biz has done… But. Amazon is the king of this country. Every publisher is frightened of Amazon. And if Amazon says this is how your business will now operate, that’s what happens.

It’s interesting that Audible has not gone “full streaming” mode yet. I do wonder why not. But they easily could.

When I started out in the music business during the end of the Twentieth Century, there was a wonderful (albeit it corrupt) infrastructure in place for aspiring artists. A young (or old!) creative soul could create compelling content as a performer or a composer, or both, and it would then behoove the record labels to find these talents, sign them to a record deal and put that label's substantial resources into play to help develop the artist's career. They did all of this of course because if the artist made a great record and the record company marketed it porperly, the label could make giant money. And this was all because the public had to PAY for music to hear it. Yes, there was radio, but that was loaded with commecial ad time, DJ nonsense, and a playlist that wasn't always what the customer wanted to hear. Therefore, the general public HAD to go to a record store and actually purchase the music to listen to their favorites at a time of their choosing. The record labels would even sponsor a tour so the artists could promote the album and drive up sales. But the tour wasn't the main event, the record was! Even though we all moaned that the labels quite often ripped off the artists and treated them badly, it was LIGHT YEARS better than what we have now.
Yep, quite similar to how the "old" book biz operated, and I pine for those days too! Simpler times, more dosh, longer lunches :)

And what do we have now? Recorded music is a completely and totally FREE commodity. Any piece of recorded music that is associated with a label (major or indie) AUTOMATICALLY puts all of its product onto YouTube where anyone can hear it for free.
It has been totally commoditized. Thank you, streamers and the venture capitalists who made it all possible.

For ease of creating playlists and the convenience of use on multiple devices, the streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple or Amazon Music provide unlimited music for a small monthly fee. Ninety percent or more of the music creators and performers don't see ANY of this money! Behold the results of the worst business model in the history of humankind:
Ahem, it’s a good business model for Spotify and their investors (record labels are Spotify investors). Not for the creators, tho.

I've seen this chart many times before and the statistics are always this drastic. I transcribed this particular iteration of the "chart of doom" from an online article by Jefri Yanata that you can read here: Headphonesty In this article Jefri discusses that–even though these stream payouts are so incredibly small–the platforms still pay artists their proper royalties to stream the music. However, this process happens for the 1% or less of mega artists still supported by major record lables (think Adelle, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, etc)
That’s an important point, and I think several big-pub CEOs actually see that as the way ahead, i.e. only publishing brand-name authors. If so, it’s a bit mistake imho, but they don’t always listen to me :)

In the Twenty First Century, the only way that a music artist can make any money at all is by touring. And that tour has to be year-round to make even a modest-to-poverty level income. This is all a very honest and accurate picture painted by first-hand experiential knowledge of the "music business" these days I am sad to report. Can anything be done about it? Well, for the twenty years or so that I have left on this mortal coil, I will do my part to find out.
There’s no direct equivalent of “touring” for authors, but there are a few ways to leverage the IP, which is what touring basically is. Prime amongst them is film/tv rights income, which presently dwarfs royalty income. I am mad keen to find other similar ways to mine IP value.

Coming back to the FAR better world of book publishing...
It;’s only better at the moment because we’re always slower to change :)

I believe that you guys (says the musician who really wants to join that club!) are still in a good place! Yes, no doubt things could be much better as you say in your message, and there are indeed ominous signs of change on the horizon (or closer!) but I implore you to not go the route of streaming services for audio books. If it goes the way that music streaming has, then authors will see their works available to a mass public for a small monthly subscription, yes. But I fear that will result in some dire things (if it follows what has happened in music) these dire things are as follows:
The decision isn’t our, sadly. It’s taken somewhere in Seattle.
  1. Publishers will receive a nice payout to place their author's work on these platforms
Yep. We need a slice of this, please.
  1. The number of major publishers will decrease dramatically
Happening.
  1. Independent small publishers with no ability to help their authors will rise dramatically
Happening.
  1. The platforms will pay royalties to the publishers for said content
  2. The publisher-anointed authors will see a rise in their visibility among readers
  3. The vast majority of authors will need to put their works on the platforms for free
Arguably all in process of happening. Kindle has all-but commoditized books, which have become ridiculously price-sensitive as a result. Why a 99c book is poor value against a $50 computer game escapes me, other than atrocious marketing by the publishers.
  1. Hard copy book sales will drop to an almost nonexistent level
My guts say this is in the process of happening, but many industry folk say otherwise. I think they’re wrong :)
  1. "Brick and mortar" book stores will start closing, perhaps to be replaced by cult fan-level boutique shops in small numbers as record stores are today
Totally agree, and I see this now.
  1. It will become virtually impossible for most authors to make a sustainable living income via writing
Happened. Authorial income has dropped over just a few years from just-under-average-wage to less than half that.
  1. The general public will revel in this new method of acquiring books and will demand said more and more for free.
Of course.

At the very least, if the scenario you describe comes to pass for the book publishing industry, I can see that you do have the opportunity to put together a better situation than the deal with the devil that devastated the music world. If you, the agents and publishers, forge a true contract where the author is protected and has a real seat at the table, then I believe the new world of streaming audio books could work. That contract would need to be something on the order of what hard copy book publishing contracts are now (or so I've heard :p) Meaning a proper and significant split of all profits between the author, agent, and publisher. Also, a FAR better version of the dreadful music payout chart above needs to be devised for the audio book streaming.
I think it is coming to pass. My suggestion is – let’s be smart about it. The writing is on the wall – OK, let’s read it and plan accordingly. They may be big, ugly and gargantuan. But we are small, nimble and clever. Mammals, in other words.

Let me make one random suggestion.

How about a sci-fi (insert genre here) -specific audiobook club? By the authors themselves?

Here’s the deal. You, the fan, pay us a pittance a month… say $4.99.

In return, you get all the sci-fi audiobooks you’d ever want. And you get to discover amazing new sci-fi authors.

Oh, and you get the warm glow of knowing your dosh is going to the good guys, who you love… who create the books you love… and who love the genre as much as you do – not as alimony to Jeff Bezos’s latest inamorata.

Plus you get a ton of community involvement, fan fic, podcasts, you name it.

And you only get it from us, not Audible.

Income flows far more equitably to the authors, having removed Spotify/Auidible etc.

And it promotes sales of ebooks etc.

Sounds halfway decent to me :)
 

Jazzissimo

Full Member
LV
0
 
Wow. @AgentPete thanks so much for your thoughtful and thorough response! It sounds as though the book world may be joining the music world in the club of Dickensian thought where it is the best of times and worst of times. Alas, when the COVID-fueled monstrous (but highly convenient) beast that is Amazon speaks...we ALL must listen. I'd be the first to say however that I appreciate being able to order anything and have it delivered in two days or less (sometimes the same day!) But what a shame that Sir Bezos and Co. can shape the destiny of an entire class of people? (creatives) There seems to be nothing for it.

That being said, you seem to me to be fully aware of the dangers so painfully exemplified by the music biz, and therefore are completely on board with not allowing that to happen in the publishing world. And that is a very good thing IMHO. I hope that others will listen to you.

The genre-specific streaming option sounds pretty cool to me as well! Of course, with the caveat that the wonderful contract that divides up the pie in an appropriate manner for everyone involved–including all authors–is firmly in place! :heart:
 

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
Full Member
LV
0
 
Alas, when the COVID-fueled monstrous (but highly convenient) beast that is Amazon speaks...we ALL must listen. I'd be the first to say however that I appreciate being able to order anything and have it delivered in two days or less (sometimes the same day!) But what a shame that Sir Bezos and Co. can shape the destiny of an entire class of people? (creatives) There seems to be nothing for it.
That is Amazon’s powerful appeal… they make the whole process seductively easy. And well done JB, it's a pretty darn good customer experience. Memo to everyone: never drink and click. Awful idea.

And yet, Amazon are vulnerable, but it will take some cojones to take them on. Publishers could only do it en masse, and that’s like herding cats.

One issue I’ve been bending ears on is their near-monopoly of e-book distribution.

How about suing them to be declared a common carrier, i.e. anyone can get access to the e-book delivery mechanism in return for a reasonable percentage of sales. That would instantly allow publishers to set up their own e-book stores. Far more dosh then available for both publishers and authors. It could be done.

That being said, you seem to me to be fully aware of the dangers so painfully exemplified by the music biz, and therefore are completely on board with not allowing that to happen in the publishing world. And that is a very good thing IMHO. I hope that others will listen to you.
It all depends on how interests are perceived to be aligned.
The genre-specific streaming option sounds pretty cool to me as well! Of course, with the caveat that the wonderful contract that divides up the pie in an appropriate manner for everyone involved–including all authors–is firmly in place! :heart:
Yep :)
 

Hannah F

Full Member
LV
2
 
Awards
1
Let me make one random suggestion.

How about a sci-fi (insert genre here) -specific audiobook club? By the authors themselves?

Here’s the deal. You, the fan, pay us a pittance a month… say $4.99.

In return, you get all the sci-fi audiobooks you’d ever want. And you get to discover amazing new sci-fi authors.

Oh, and you get the warm glow of knowing your dosh is going to the good guys, who you love… who create the books you love… and who love the genre as much as you do – not as alimony to Jeff Bezos’s latest inamorata.

Plus you get a ton of community involvement, fan fic, podcasts, you name it.

And you only get it from us, not Audible.

Income flows far more equitably to the authors, having removed Spotify/Auidible etc.

And it promotes sales of ebooks etc.
This sounds like a good, workable idea to me.
 

Flash Club Contest! January Flash Club Contest

YEAH, no...

Top