Dymocks still fumbling the D Publishing ball, and other writerly news

It has been a case of third time unlucky for Dymocks, which has presented three versions of its author contract for those wanting to publishing under its imprint — and been criticised each time for imposing unpalatable terms on the author. Crikey’s Lit-icism blog provides a nice overview of the continuing reservations about the service. Perhaps check for version four and, as with any contract, check the fine print, decide if the service is worth the price, be aware of what it might mean down the track…

Also on the nose, but in a rather more fetching manner, is Kim Wilkins, polishing off another manuscript in her ‘fetid nightie‘.

And now for the fresh air:

Last week, I had the pleasure — I guess that should be the joy, really — of umming and ahing my way through a wonderful episode of Scifi and Squeam with Joy94.9 host Sonja and fellow guest Rob Radcliffe. We gushed over Gothic movies and paid special mention to the late Ken Russsell, in particular his Gothic and Lair of the White Worm.

Also: Jay Kristoff reports there was a kerfuffle over at Goodreads, once again delivering the message about being ever so careful when replying to or commenting on unfavourable reviews; Louise Cusack shares the sharp covers of the new e-versions of her fantasy trilogy; and Sean the Bookonaut speaks up for the Stellas in an argument I’m still catching up with…

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Writerly round-up: D Publishing still doesn’t quite get it, and the quest for quality and equality

[Update, 18 December: Steve Rossiter reports (in the comments section here) a third version of the D Pub contract is promised [Dec 24: Rossiter still finds holes in the new Dymocks’ contract, calling it a wasted opportunity]. Meanwhile, Writers Beware has posted this succinct summary of some of the concerns sparked by the original contract, which presumably will be addressed in the amended agreement for those wanting to use Dymocks’ distribution.]

[Dec 24: Crikey has interviewed Rossiter, and also provided a handy synopsis of the D Pub issue including links to the various criticisms levelled at the original contract.]

Dymocks’ D Publishing has been doing the PR rounds trying to hose down the criticism of their contracts — the ones you have to dig through their help menu to find — for those who want to use the service to not only print their work, but have it distributed. Those two arms of service do seem to have blurred in commentary, perhaps because D Publishing isn’t staking out that division strongly enough. It’s something they’re trying to address with PR, rather than website design or clarity. Still, early days…

Steve Rossiter, who issued a warning about the terms and conditions when first announced, and wasn’t wholly convinced by the second pass, has since had a chat with D Pub and seems somewhat mollified.

And over at Bookseller + Publisher, Dymocks has played serve and volley with contracts expert Alex Adsett, and has done a fairly good job of avoiding the actual issues she raises about Dymocks’ rights policy while playing the line that Dymocks is there to serve the author. In which case, they’d put their terms and conditions up front and centre for those considering publishing with them (as opposed to merely printing), and remove the ambiguity that Adsett has identified. But, you know, as I said, early days…

As always, it’s a case of ‘let the buyer beware’: shop around for the service that offers the quality, product and cost-effectiveness that best suits your needs, and mind the small print. One thing you can’t argue about: being publisher, distributor and sales outlet is a great example of vertical integration.

  • Meanwhile, Zena Shapter has been searching for what makes a good anthology or collection. I’m judging the Aurealis Awards in that very category this year, my second year in a row (which means I really should be doing some reading right now!), so I was included in her survey of editors and judges to see what they looked for from within three criteria — quality writing was pretty much the unanimous pic. The message here: love that talented editor and don’t let them go!
  • Kevin Powe — I’m catching up a bit here — recently blogged about sexism in the tech industry (he was also catching up, on Ada Lovelace Day) and, in the wake of the announcement of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge, it’s worth a read. Also, neat to see him namecheck one of the editors who’s published my non-newspaper work.
  • The good, the nervous and the ugly: aka a new story out, and Dymocks drops the ball

    after the world corpus christi issue 4The good news is that After the World: Corpus Christi Issue 4 is out now, and in that book I have a story in which I make a pass at the real reason for the disappearance of Harold Holt. I’m a little nervous about seeing the story in print, because I haven’t seen edits or a proof, so the final product will be a little like an early Christmas present still wrapped!

    We visited the Nepean and the beach where the PM took his last swim, and it’s easy enough to imagine a swimmer foundering there, without any help from my twisted imaginings. But twisted imaginings make for more fun, don’t they?

    Well, unless you’re Dymocks, trying to run a print-on-demand service under the pretense of being some kind of civic service, in which case, you’re likely to shoot yourself in the tail. Which is exactly what has happened with its “people’s publishing” arm, DPublishing. The site went live on Thursday, and I struggled to make sense out of its terms of service — once I found them, squirrelled away at the bottom of the page far, far away from the “make your book now” button — except to realise they were vague and ever so suggestively skewed towards the ‘publisher’: the publisher accepting no liability and no out-of-pocket expense — this is an author-pays-all kind of deal.

    Fortunately, another commentator with more nous had a proper look, and on Friday, published this review of the D Publishing contract — with a big warning. The D Publishing terms, by Friday night, were no longer available where I’d first found them as a web page, and AusLit has somehow found a pdf of a revised set — I still haven’t managed to find where on the website they’re posted, although the rates card is still live from a previous link.

    For the moment, then, you’d be well advised to make sure you have all the facts about just what rights you’re signing away to Dymocks before you hit that shiny “make me an instant author” button. Their model might work for you, or it might not, but be aware of just what it is you’re getting into. Meanwhile, you’ll find plenty of other channels to publish your book in both print and electronic forms, with far more clear terms and conditions. It might be worth doing some comparison shopping. Let’s face it: if Dymocks is serious about stocking quality, self-published books, then they’ll be looking farther afield than their own little paddock (with its 50% discount on top of its printing fees and 30% commission — Dymocks, as both printer and distributor, gets two bites of the cherry!).

    Dymocks joins the POD bandwagon

    I saw this headline on a blog post tonight: Dymocks announces game-changing publishing operation set to benefit most writers.

    Wow, I thought, can this mean that Dymocks has finally dropped its opposition to parallel import restrictions? Can I rejoin the ranks of Dymocks’ Booklovers?

    No, and no. (Yes, those two things are related.)

    The gushing headline in fact refers to the recent announcement that Dymocks is launching a printing service for print and e-books, called D Publishing. It’s due to start operation in October, which is probably when we’ll get a look at their cost scale.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like most every other print-on-demand printer in the market. You pay them money, they print your book (in paper and/or pixels). The more you pay, the more they do for you. I can only assume it’s being hailed as ‘game-changing’ because Dymocks already has its chain of stores dangling the carrot of possibly stocking books printed using their imprint. More on that later.

    I’m not quite sure how another POD provider in the market is going to ‘benefit most writers’. It will certainly benefit the oodles of frustrated writers who are pursuing self-publishing, by giving them another choice of printer — note that, for example, Lightning Source has now opened an Australian office, offering easy access to UK and US markets. So maybe there’ll be some cost competition for the likes of Sid Harta and Zeus to consider.

    Dymocks is also talking about opening up its Booklovers community as a kind of communal feedback service on works in progress: that’s a cool element for sparking ongoing discussion about the WIP. I’d advocate thick skin, as with any critique group, and a solid sense of self-belief before flinging the baby into what could be either a piranha pool or a flock of sheep, or simply a big puddle of meh.

    Printing is probably the easiest part of publishing these days, whether on an order-by-order basis or a whole swag of copies for you to hock from your car boot.And we’re seeing a stack of niche small presses opening up, operating of a variety of models: advances, royalty share, sheer old-style vanity.

    Dymocks is, like many existing printing firms, layering its services with editing and design services — presumably there’ll be a sliding scale there, too, and if it results in less hideous computer-generated, unreadable and plain ugly self-produced book covers, hooray. A text relatively free of typos and literals would be pleasant, too (this includes you, lazy and tight-fisted major publishers).

    And for the self-publishing author, there’s the big hurdle — distribution — which is where Dymocks, with 17 per cent of the market, does carry a big carrot.

    Dymocks is talking about, undoubtedly for a price, offering the option of using their imprint and accessing their sales channels. This is particularly good news for those who want paper copies, especially with Aussie distributors doing it tough.

    There’s been something of a massive exhalation of relief thanks to e-publishing meaning no requirement to trudge satchels of books from book store to book store with a pleading expression and the incomprehension engendered by that bookselling chestnut, right of return. But e-publishing is only one segment, and it’s a growth industry: the interwebs are filled with e-chaff. Having product readily available is one thing; having people know that it’s available is another entirely. Convincing them to buy it, well, that’s the key, isn’t it.

    Book buyers haven’t quite discarded their love of bricks and mortar shops just yet. And e-books still don’t have the cache of the printed product, especially when they’re marked at .99c.

    Other advantages of going with an Australian-based company, rather than, say, lulu.com or Smashwords, are paperwork and postage. My understanding is that you can avoid a whole lot of, for example, American tax documentation by going local, and anything that makes it easier to set up the business and then run it must be a good thing. And having the books printed in Australia means domestic customers save cash and time on postage. Access to overseas outlets means saving for customers in those markets, too (cf the Lightning Source comment).

    It’s an interesting move from Dymocks, now enjoying a Borders-less market, and a wise move to shore up that vertical integration thing they talk about in economics classes. The company has seen an opening that it’s well placed to exploit. The stats definitely show there are plenty of punters out there willing to throw their money at the great lottery of self-publishing.

    It will be interesting to see how Dymocks structure their operation: will there be separate imprints reflecting the level of money spent, for instance — Dymocks Deluxe: guaranteed copy edited/proofread/structually sound?

    The thing that struck me, back in the great PIR battle of 2009, was that Dymocks and their economic rationalist allies didn’t really care about books at all. They cared about product and price. Where that product came from didn’t matter a jot, as long as it could be obtained cheaply. There was a profound disrespect for Australian content and ignorance of the role of self-generated literature in a given society.

    So the cynic in me takes claims of some kind of altruism towards Australian authors on Dymocks’ behalf with a grain of salt.

    I hasten to add, however, that on an individual store basis, that does not necessarily hold true. I know of stores in Melbourne and Brisbane where the local managers have been extremely supportive of writers within their community.

    The beauty of being the printer, regardless of the extra services offered, is that you take no risk. It is very much a service “driven by the author”, as Dymocks CEO Don Grover says. That means the author ponies up the money; the printer doesn’t have to filter a slush pile, pay for editing and design, whatever marketing they can find the spare change for. There’s no advance to pay, such as they are these days.

    So, well played, Dymocks, and welcome to the new publishing landscape, where even the word “publisher” is up for grabs in these so-very interesting days.

    Putting the eeeeee! into e-books

    I am returned from Bookcamp. I have seen the future. It is now.

    Yes, I am tired, and yes, I have drunk too much coffee, and no I have not joined the Marines or some weird exercise cult. Rather, I joined 70 to 80 interested people at an ‘unconference’ about the publishing industry, run by if:book Australia in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival.

    the scream by edvard munchFor the most part, the story was comforting and even exciting. Writers write, people called publishers disseminate the written work in the hope of finding an audience and making income for everyone involved. But the publishers ain’t what they used to be — Dymocks has just announced it’s hitting the POD and publishing pathway, for instance, and even agents are (controversially) getting in on the act. And, of course, authors are acting as their own publishers. And, presumably, their own editors, designers, legal department, advertising department and PR firms. And, also importantly, distributors. Or they’re outsourcing those tasks they can’t or don’t want to do, to specialists who can.

    For instance, I’ve recently received a handful of press releases from Australian and American public relations outfits touting the attractions of self-published novels. That’s a serious investment.

    Probably my greatest, scariest realisation during the course of the day was that, now more than ever, my stories are truly not mine once they’re published. Not only can readers review them, in whatever fashion, and indeed convert them within their mind’s eye to whatever text they want to — the story is, and always has been, theirs to interpret — but they can, more easily than ever, mash them, adapt them and generally fuck them up any which way they choose (within the bounds of copyright at least, if they’re playing fair). There’s a suggestion that this is a good thing, art sparking conversation and more art, art as the centre of community; but part of me shrivels at the thought of all that work being edited, altered and re-visioned. Another part of me asks, what’s my cut? If I’m being remixed, do I at least get my name in brackets?

    It is indeed a braver new world.

    Another item emerging from the discussions, in amongst the generally accepted wisdom that the traditional publishers are still way behind the 8-ball on the whole digital thing, is the ability to ‘enhance’ e-text with stuff: music, hyperlinks, comments, annotations, pictures, videos, behind-the-scenes … you get the idea. This stuff not only adds interest for readers, but adds to the conversation generated by the text. It’s a cafe chat on the interwebs centred on the text. Which is kind of neat.

    A cited example of how a narrative, in this case essentially a children’s picture book, can be enhanced through the web, and spin off user-generated adaptations in the great tradition of fan fiction, was Inanimate Alice, proving a hit in classrooms as a means of getting kids interested in storytelling.

    An e-book, one of the guest speakers, Hugh McGuire, said, is essentially a web page with limited functionality. Food for thought, that.

    But what if you don’t want bells and whistles? What if you want that escapist submergence in the text and only the text, without pauses for even dictionaries? You just want words making pictures — indeed, an entire world — in your head.

    It’s an issue that Louise Cusack has fortuitously blogged about, sparked by an article in Publishers Weekly, which examines the advantage vs disadvantage of e-adding.

    Thankfully, we can have our cake and eat it, too. Just as with a DVD with extra features, we can choose which version of the story we want. The Inanimate Alice producers found that their audience was split 50-50 for enhanced vs unenhanced, so new episodes are being made both in enhanced and unenhanced versions.

    paul hogan in shrimp on the barbie tourism advertisementSo now I’m imagining by nasty little outback vampire story romping in the e-wilderness with pop-ups for the Strine-challenged reader. No more Americanisation required (I’m still bemused that English is converted for North American readers but the reverse does not apply — aren’t North Americans insulted by not being trusted to handle colour with that pesky u? Of course, fanny is more problematic…). Don’t know what the boot of a car is? Enable the special features and *pop* — even better than a footnote. With pronunciation guide, aural or text-only. With a picture, even. This would be fun, even better than a glossary at the back of the book. Paul Hogan could resurrect his career doing voice overs for books — “g’day readers: in Aw-strayl-ya, we throw prawns on the barbie; if you throw on a shrimp, you’ve got a small lad with a nasty burn”.

    OK, maybe not.

    Still, exciting times as the world gets smaller and the barriers between writers and readers are increasingly broken down. But let’s not forget that, regardless of format, regardless of Flash, regardless of publisher, the readers still deserve something worth reading (and please, gods, at the barest minimum, something proofread). Hell, maybe they’ll even consent to pay for it.

    Meanwhile, if you’d like more information about the digital age and what it means for writers, check out the Digital Writers conference in Brisbane on October 15, organised by the Emerging Writers Festival with support from if:book Australia, Queensland Writers Centre and Avid Reader.

    for the love of Aussie books

    In The Courier-Mail, Kathleen Noonan makes the case, with her usual passion,  for maintaining our existing territorial copyright.

    http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25659282-5012506,00.html

    It’s depressing, reading that more than 18,000 Dymocks subscribers have signed their petition. Makes my decision to quit the Dymocks newsletter seem rather insignificant.

    You might also like to check out what Tim Winton, latest winner of the Miles Franklin award for Breath, has to say on the issue: http://www.penguin.com.au/breath/video.cfm

    parallel importation: aussie books under threat?

    Australian writer Garth Nix, representing the forces of light, went shoulder-to-shoulder with Dymocks’ Don Grover, representing the forces of darkness. They started on Triple J’s The Hack and then went video on Lateline (the preamble to the panel can be found at the ABC’s IView if you don’t mind some downloading and wading, until May 20).
    . Worth tuning into both to get an idea of the issues involved in proposed changes to Australia’s copyright/importation laws affecting the local publishing industry. The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the laws is here; worth checking out the submissions to see what writers and publishers are saying about the proposals.