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The Authors Guild

Robinson and Alexie Draw the Focus to Authors in Amazon-Hachette Dispute

In the flurry of media stories over the last few weeks covering the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, one perspective has largely been overlooked: that of the author. Two Guild members recently took to the airwaves to fix that.

Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson was a guest Thursday morning on NPR’s On Point, reminding listeners that while Amazon may be the bully in this particular dispute, Hachette and the rest of the Big Five don’t exactly have clean records when it comes to e-book revenue, which seems to be the object of the two firms’ standoff.

Just as Amazon is pressuring Hachette now, Hachette and other major trade publishers, Robinson said, regularly put the squeeze on their authors when it comes to e-book royalty rates. As we’ve maintained for years, an e-book royalty of 25% of net receipts is a windfall to the publisher and a major step back for authors. To begin with, it’s not reflective of publishing’s traditional “joint venture” arrangement, in which authors and publishers effectively split the net proceeds of book sales. What’s more, it incentivizes publishers to favor e-books, from which they profit at a higher rate than from hardcover sales.

Robinson also touched on the potential antitrust violations of Amazon’s market dominance, particularly its predatory pricing schemes. The New York Times covered similar ground in an editorial on Tuesday. The Times’ editorial board wrote that “when a company dominates the sale of certain products as Amazon does with books, it has the power to distort the market for its own benefit and possibly in violation of antitrust laws.”

Robinson wasn’t the only member of the Authors Guild family in the news. Council member Sherman Alexie made a Wednesday evening appearance on The Colbert Report, standing up for the authors affected by the corporate standoff and even suggesting a boycott of Amazon.

When two publishing giants fight, Colbert asked Alexie, who do you root for? Alexie responded without hesitation: “You root for the authors.” Colbert and Alexie, both Hachette authors, expressed frustration not only at what Amazon’s tactics have done to their own royalties, but also at how they could affect new authors.

The authors also took the time to remind readers that Amazon’s not the only bookstore on the block. When Colbert asked Alexie what we can do to fight back, the novelist responded with a solution we can all bear in mind: “Well, number one, you don’t shop there . . . for anything.”

The American Booksellers Association hasn’t passed up this opportunity to convert readers’ ill-will towards Amazon into more support for their members. The organization released a logo this week sporting the following message: “Thanks, Amazon, the indies will take it from here. Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always.”

We’re hopeful that independent bookstores, at least, can find a way to turn this strife to their advantage.

Bulletin Board

This week’s batch of contests includes two poetry book contests! Deadlines range from June 30-July 1.

Bauhan Publishing is now accepting submissions for the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Book Prize. The contest is open to international residents but the book must be written in English (translations are not eligible). The winner receives $1,000, book publication, and 100 copies of the published book. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete guidelines, please visit the website.

Glimmer Train’s Fiction Contest is currently accepting submissions. The winner will receive $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue. Second place will receive $1,000 and 10 copies if accepted for publication. Third place will receive $600, or $700 and 10 copies if accepted for publication. Stories can range from 2,000 to 20,000 words. Entry fee: $19. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete guidelines, please visit the website.

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Supreme Court’s Pass on Journalist’s Appeal Puts Focus on Federal Shield Law

On Monday the Supreme Court issued a one-line order declining to hear the appeal of New York Times journalist James Risen. A lower court had ordered the reporter to comply with a subpoena requiring him to reveal a confidential source.

The case began after Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, reported on a botched CIA operation that may have given valuable nuclear technology to Iran. During a Justice Department investigation of the operation, Risen was issued a subpoena to testify about a confidential source. He refused.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Sarah McGrath is executive editor at Riverhead. Last year that publisher had four big bestsellers. McGrath was interviewed by PW, and she described what she looks for when she opens a manuscript:

“I want a book that makes you forget what you are doing. That can be because of the beauty of the sentences, or because of the propulsion of the plot, or the emotional effect it has on you. Hopefully, it’s all three of those things.”

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New Books by Members

This week’s recent and upcoming books by our members include titles by Sophie Blackall, Jane Cutler, Anna Dewdney, Meryl Gordon, Paul Dubois Jacobs, Steven James, Maggie Rudy, David McCullough, Jr., Claudia Mills, Matteo Pistono, Amy Plum, Patricia Skalka, Dennis Snelling, Susan Spano, Eileen Spinelli, George Vecsey, and Yvonne Ventresca. Titles under the jump.

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Hachette and Amazon Trade Barbs in Public Statements

In a remarkable move, Amazon released a statement yesterday defending its slow-walking of Hachette Book Group titles. The normally tight-lipped corporation broke its silence amid a barrage of press—including Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson’s appearance on the Bloomberg TV program “Market Makers”—concerning its ploy to pressure Hachette into accepting unfavorable contract terms.

Today, Hachette shot back.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

If, at the beach this summer, the water is too cold, critic Janet Maslin suggests, choose “something else to dive into.” In Sunday’s New York Times she wrote that “we have entered the fun season with the sandy nickname, the one known for books impossible to put down.” Her articles about beach books are an annual event.

This summer? “If there’s one overriding motif, it’s this: “The crazier, the better.” The longest title: You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About.

Maslin wound up with “Here’s a sure way to tell when the summer reading season is ending. . . . Leaves will change color.” The ones on trees. Not those in books.

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Amazon Tightens Its Grip in Dispute with Hachette

Blackmail works best.  That seems to be Amazon’s negotiating strategy, at least.  The online retailer is now refusing orders on some Hachette Book Group titles in an attempt to extort better contract terms from the publisher.

We reported earlier this week on Amazon’s “slow walking” of Hachette Book Group titles.  Amazon was putting pressure on the smallest of the Big Five publishers as the two firms try to negotiate a new contract.

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Bulletin Board

This week’s batch of contests includes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Deadlines ranger from Jun 15-30.

The Autumn House Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction Contests are now open for submissions. Fiction and nonfiction submissions should be 200-300 pages in length; poetry submissions should be 50-80 pages in length. The winner of each contest will be awarded publication and $2,500 ($1,000 advance against royalties and $1,500 travel grant to promote his or her book). Entry fee: $30 per entry. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete guidelines about each genre, please visit the website.

The University of Pittsburgh Press is now accepting submissions for its 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction. The award is open to writers who have published a novel, a collection of short fiction, or at least three short stories or novellas in publications with national distribution. The winner will receive $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Manuscripts must be between 150 and 300 typed pages. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete submission guidelines, please visit the website.

The Salamander Fiction Prize is now open for submissions. The winner will receive $1,500 and publication. Stories must not exceed 30 pages (double spaced, 12 point font). Multiple entries are allowed but each story must be submitted separately. Previously published works and works accepted for publication elsewhere cannot be considered. Entry fee: $15 per entry (includes a one year subscription). Deadline: June 15, 2014. For complete guidelines, please visit the website.

Why Can’t Publishers Quit Amazon?

Amazon and Hachette Book Group are still battling it out as Amazon seeks to squeeze the publisher’s profit margins in their new contract. Amazon continues to deploy a tactic we’ve called “slow walking,” purposefully putting what appears to be hundreds of Hachette books on two to three week back order to remind Hachette of Amazon’s market power. (See “Amazon Slow-walks Books by Gladwell, Colbert, Others in Spat with Hachette” for more.)

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