Times Revisits 1988 Guild Campaign to Credit Phantom Novelist

When The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in 1988, the musical—which Andrew Lloyd Weber adapted from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 French novel—was an immediate hit, securing 10 Tony nominations in its first year on stage. But Leroux didn’t receive credit in the official production billing. The Authors Guild was part of a group that fixed that, and the New York Times revisited the 27-year-old story in its Morning Briefing earlier this week (subscription required).

Leroux’s absence from the billing had irked a young film assistant named Bill O’Connell, who organized a coalition of rights groups and authors to make sure Leroux received credit.

The coalition included the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, the Mystery Writers of America and the authors Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow and Harlan Ellison.

Posted in Authorship, General

“We All Gotta Eat, Even When Making Art”—Stiles Responds to Salon Piece on Money and Authorship

Money is the single biggest practical issue facing a working writer—so why don’t we talk about it more often and more openly? Enter Ann Baur’s refreshing call for writers to be more honest about money, published in Salon yesterday.

In the article, which is generating some worthwhile discussion in the comments section, Baur pulls back the curtain on what allows her to sustain her writing life: her husband’s substantial salary. In doing so, she recognizes the importance of open discussion about the financial realities of authorship in the digital age, especially now that downward pressures on book revenue have made it difficult for even the most dedicated writer to make ends meet. “In my opinion,” Baur writes, “we do enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed.”

AG Council member T.J. Stiles applauded the Baur piece when he posted a response to it. Stiles’ response took the conversation a step further, connecting decreasing book revenues to the erosion of copyright protection and the growth of digital piracy. Here it is, in full.

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Posted in Authorship, General

Not Just the French: Argentina and South Korea Debate Limiting Book Discount

While limits on book discounting in France and Germany receive much more attention, Publishing Perspectives took a recent look, in separate pieces, at how pricing and discounting is shaping the book market in two countries with vastly different reading and book buying cultures–Argentina and Korea.

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Posted in Authorship, General

Elmore Leonard: An Appreciation

To readers and moviegoers, Elmore Leonard was a writer who entertained them for decades, and whose work will surely continue to do so for years.

For authors, he was that and more. For some, a friend, a colleague, a mentor.  For countless more, a writer whose influence not only defined modern crime fiction, but reached far beyond it.

Of course he had his well-known admirers.  “I think Elmore Leonard is the great American writer,” Stephen King said. Martin Amis called him, “incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence.” Saul Bellow famously had Leonard’s books on his shelves.

But for every big name author who has praised him, many lesser known writers have his “10 Rules of Writing” taped to their computers or committed to memory. It’s hard to imagine an author who wouldn’t benefit from continually returning to rule number 10: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

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Posted in Authorship, General

Cuckoo’s Calling Fallout: Denials of a “Stunt,” Empathy from a Pseudonymist, A Post-Revelation Rave, and an App for Uncovering Authorship

Reverberations from J.K. Rowling’s outing this weekend as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, continue, and not just in Amazon raking in sales of the Kindle version as the printer works overtime to get physical copies of the crime novel into bookstores.

In the three days since London’s Sunday Times broke the news, we’ve seen:

Emphatic denials from Rowling and her publisher, Little, Brown, that the whole thing was a sales-boosting stunt. The Bookseller quotes J K Rowling’s spokesperson, Nicky Stonehill of Stonehill Salt PR: “We can confirm the story in the Sunday Times was correct, and it was not a leak or elaborate marketing campaign to boost sales. We are not commenting any further.” The Bookseller also quotes the publisher that the revelation, “was not a leak or part of a marketing campaign.”

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Posted in Authorship, General

JK Rowling’s Experiment in Pseudonymity: Critical Acclaim No Match for Big Name

The revelation that “debut” mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling was actually written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith highlights quirks of the book business and challenges faced by authors both famous and obscure.

Rowling, who admitted to writing the novel after London’s Sunday Times uncovered the truth about the book published by Little, Brown in April, issued a statement saying:

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Liberating perhaps after publishing her much-anticipated first adult book, last year’s The Casual Vacancy, to tepid reviews that measured the novel against her blockbuster series.

“With J. K. Rowling’s new novel, ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ we are firmly in Muggle-land — about as far from the enchanted world of Harry Potter as we can get,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times.  “There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery.”

Despite the mixed reviews, The Casual Vacancy debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Meanwhile, “Robert Galbraith” met the fate of many first-time authors, attracting critical praise including a starred review in Publishers Weekly, but low sales (they’ve, of course, spiked since the weekend).

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Posted in Authorship, General

Piracy, Bribery, Profit? Amazon Releases Kindle Into Complex Chinese Book Market

Will the availability of the Kindle be enough to convince Chinese readers to actually pay for the ebooks they download? That’s the hope as Amazon starts selling its Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle HD Fire in a nation of rampant piracy.

Stemming copyright violations would require quite a change in mindset. Consider a 2012 survey of nearly 19,000 Chinese readers, as reported in the People’s Daily Online:

The survey, carried out by the  Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, also showed that 40.1 percent of respondents who have read e-books before would be willing to pay for the books, down 1.7 percent year on year.

So, six out of 10 ebook readers in China would not even be theoretically willing to spend money on the titles they download.

Amazon is hoping to discourage piracy by keeping prices low, selling most ebooks at the equivalent of $1.63. But it will also have to convince consumers to choose the Kindle over cheaper Chinese e-readers, as Bloomberg reports:

Amazon, a brand known for bargains in most of the places it operates, finds itself in a more premium position with its Kindle products in China. The Paperwhite costs 849 yuan. E-Commerce China Dangdang, one of Amazon’s Chinese competitors, began selling its own e-reader there a year ago. The price: 599 yuan.

Amazon’s move comes on the heels of a scandal highlighting China’s pervasive problems with copyright, the arrest of Lou Li, the founder of that country’s largest online literature site, Qidian. Press accounts differ as to the nature of his alleged misdeeds–reports have him arrested for either selling copyrighted material that belonged to Qidian’s parent company or accepting bribes in a copyright negotiation.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright, E-Books, General, Royalties

Remember the Orphans? Battle Lines Being Drawn in HathiTrust Appeal

Organizations were lining up to file briefs in the HathiTrust appeal this week. Before we get to that, however, let’s take a moment to recap for those of you who may be foggy on the details of this mass book digitization lawsuit.

In the fall of 2011, authors’ groups from Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, UK and US (ourselves and the Authors League Fund) and eleven individual authors sued digital book repository HathiTrust and five universities over their storage and use of millions of books. The basic facts are pretty clear. Everyone agrees that some of the universities authorized Google to digitize copyright-protected books by the million (we say seven million, but we think that’s conservative). Those books comprised nearly the entire stacks of some university libraries, and included in print and out of print books by authors from all over the world in dozens of languages.

Google employees and contractors produced complete digital replicas of each library book and converted those page scans into machine-readable digital text. Google then gave the libraries the resulting ebooks — a readable page-by-page image file accompanied by an embedded, searchable digital text file for each of the seven million books. For its trouble, the libraries agreed that Google could keep its own copy of the ebooks it created. (Google’s actions are the subject of a separate, ongoing, seemingly unending, class-action lawsuit, Authors Guild v. Google, which we and representative plaintiffs brought in 2005.) Neither Google nor the libraries sought or obtained authors’ or publishers’ permission to convert their books into machine-readable form for ingestion by Google and the university library data centers.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright, E-Books, General

Counting the Cost (to Authors) of S&S/B&N Rift

As the dispute over terms between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble drags on, an experience related by bestselling novelist William Kent Krueger reminds us it’s authors who are paying the price. On his blog, Kent’s Rants, Krueger explains how he learned about the conflict:

I’ve been setting up my tour for Tamarack County, which comes out on August 20.  I’d arranged two events at Barnes and Noble stores in the Twin Cities, two stores that have been strong supporters of my work from the beginning and that sell enormous quantities of my work.  Then I got the word from New York: No visits to B&N.

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Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, General

BEA: Touting Serious Books, Mulling Reviews Ethics, Celebrating Indies, Lining up for a Cat

In addition to providing a showcase for upcoming books and lots of schmoozing opportunities, BookExpo America offers a look at the trends and ideas that—for better or worse–could affect authors now and in the near future.

This year’s BEA featured less hyperbolic discussion of digital publishing than in recent years, reflecting the fact that ebooks are now an entrenched part of the business. Many of the best-attended events revolved around more traditional subjects.

At the annual Buzz Panel, where editors tout their favorite fall titles, observers noted a refreshing emphasis on serious books.  On the Vulture website, Boris Kachka described the panel:

I’ve previously found it to be a hodgepodge affair, spanning fiction and non-, great and derivative. This year was different: overwhelmingly female (five of the six writers, all six editors), unrelentingly bleak (genocide, strokes, Calvino-esque alienation), and consistently enthralling.

Another BEA gathering focused on the ethics of book reviewing.

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Posted in Authorship, General