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January 6, 2007

Corrected definitions
Posted by Teresa at 03:00 PM * 87 comments

I heard from Bart Patton that Paperback Writer has been serializing a Devil’s Dictionary for the publishing industry. Her version (which you should read before reading mine) is, as the proverb says, not half bad. Her entries only need a few small corrections.

Important note: bear in mind that these are definitions written in response to S. L. Viehl’s Devil’s Dictionary. They aren’t necessarily the opinions I’d have from scratch.

The Devil’s Publishing Dictionary Part I: A through M:

Advance: Short for “Advance against Hoped-for Royalties.” A sum paid by the publisher to the author in satisfaction of a debt, consisting of royalty payments, which has not yet and may never be incurred. If at some point in the far future this debt in royalties is actually incurred in full, the author will complain that the advance (which they’ve long since spent) was disgracefully stingy for such a successful book.

Advance Reading Copies: A prepublication edition of the book that is distinguishable from regular editions by having no price on the cover, and by costing the publisher more per copy than the reviewers will ever realize by selling them at the Strand or on eBay.

Agents: Even the best authors will eventually write themselves out and fall from favor. Even the best editors will lose their jobs to corporate mergers. But successful agents go on forever, and the really successful ones have lovely summer homes. Try to impress this on your children’s minds when they’re planning their future careers.

Backlist: (1.) If the author’s own works, a collection of unjustly overlooked masterpieces just waiting to be put back into print, where they will dazzle all that behold them. (2.) If written by persons other than the author, a moldering substratum of boring old titles the author has never read, will never read, and can see no reason for any publisher to unearth and artificially revive into a second, shambling, short-term zombie-like existence.

Celebrity: The only kind of non-mega-bestselling author the mass media thinks worthy of notice. Non-celebrity authors, observing this media attention, immediately conclude that publishing is all about celebrity books, and spin extravagant fantasies about the treatment they receive.

Copy Editor: If good, an angel who can second-guess an author about their own book and get it right. If bad, the literary equivalent of root canal performed without anesthesia on the healthy tooth next to the one that needed work.

Copyright: During the author’s lifetime, the author’s nearly inalienable legal right to ownership of his or her own work. Thanks to the new extended terms of copyright (brought into law via means that would make a sausage-maker turn pale), the legal right of the author’s second ex-wife’s grandchildren by her third marriage to display their ignorance, exercise their greed, and gratify their egos to such an extent that they make the author’s work impossible to publish, adapt for theatrical performance, or excerpt in works of literary criticism, thus guaranteeing its permanent posthumous obscurity.

Cover Art; Book Jacket: A small poster advertising the book to potential readers. Authors who have failed to take into account the fact that it has been bound to the outside of the book, rather than printed on an interior page, will often come to the mistaken conclusion that it is meant to illustrate the story, and be distressed by its inaccuracy.

Earn Out: To the author, proof that the publisher didn’t pay enough for the book.

E-book (electronic book): The publishing format that has the highest ratio of “time spent discussing it in meetings” to “copies sold.”* Authors fondly believe that tens of thousands of readers who’ve passed up the opportunity to buy attractive, inexpensive hardcopy editions of their works will nevertheless go to great effort to illegally download wonky, badly formatted e-texts of the same books in order to read them in Courier on their computer screens.

Managing Editor: In trade book publishing, the person in charge of production. Normally, there are multiple layers of insulation between the author’s behavior and the Managing Editor’s production decisions. That’s a good thing.

Mass Market: A smaller, cheaper edition of a hardcover novel that is nevertheless more difficult, expensive, and uncertain to publish.

Mid-list: What other authors are who sell as well as you do, but don’t have your inherent talent or obvious commercial promise.

The Devil’s Publishing Dictionary Part II: N through Z:

Out of Print: When a book of yours is inarguably and permanently out of print at its current publisher, but you can’t get the rights back just by asking for them, that’s nature’s way of telling you to dump your agent, and look for a new publisher while you’re at it.

Packager: (1.) A person or firm which contracts with publishers to deliver finished (often camera-ready) books of high quality and great commercial appeal by a specified date. This is not to say—this is emphatically not to say—that the works they deliver meet any of those specifications. (2.) The class enemy of production departments, which get to clean up (badly, on a rush basis) the packager’s grossly incompetent mishandling of tasks the production department would far rather have taken care of themselves.

Prequel: A book cobbled together out of the worldbuilding and backstory notes that the author once upon a time had the sense to leave out of the series.

Print Run: The projected print run is what you hope for. The real print run is the number of copies you calculate will be needed based on the actual orders that are coming in.

Pub Date: The date naive authors start haunting the bookstores, hoping to see their book on the shelves.

Remainders: Proof that your publisher generously paid to print and distribute enough copies for them to be made available to every reader who might conceivably find them attractive; which, necessarily, means that there will be copies left over. As an alternative to being pulped, these are sometimes offered at reduced prices to readers who, if they enjoy the book, will be primed to buy your next one at normal retail prices.

Reviewer: A person who by virtue of their position must either disappoint their readers, or the authors they review. The ones who satisfy their readers keep their jobs.

Royalties: Percentage of the sales price earned by the author on sold copies. Most of this money is received by the authors years before their books earn it. If a book earns out and the author starts earning additional royalty payments, they will complain bitterly about how long it takes to receive them.

Self-publishing: How authors who are slow learners find out about marketing and distribution.

Small Press: A publishing house that’s only as good as the people running it. (This applies to publishing houses of any size.)

Trade Paperback: (1.) Cheaper than a hardcover; stays on the shelves longer and earns more per unit than a mass-market paperback. (2.) Technically, a softcover edition of any trim size that is whole-copy returnable, rather than being stripped for credit like a mass-market paperback.

Trade Publisher: A publisher of books that are sold via bookstores.

Vanity Press: A way of getting published that anyone can see is folly, unless the book in question is their own.

Writer: It’s not an occupation; it’s a compulsion.

Comments on Corrected definitions:
#1 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 03:15 PM:

Genius.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 03:18 PM:

This, from Beth Meacham? I must go lie down and fan myself.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Trouble is, these aren't "Devil's" definitions at all, but the simple plain facts about publishing. I guess I'd have to read the original to get the joke here! :-D

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Not all of them are plain facts; see, for example, "earn out" and "mid-list".

#5 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 03:30 PM:

Fancy facts. I stand corrected. :-)

#6 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Naive readers also haunt bookstores on the pub date. *blush*

I remember returning to my local Barnes and Noble, day after day, until they had finally stocked FREEDOM AND NECESSITY (the hardcover).

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 05:14 PM:

Even un-naive readers haunt bookstores on pub date, in hopes of getting lucky.

#9 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 06:43 PM:

Writer: It’s not an occupation; it’s a compulsion.

Oh, thank goodness. All along, I thought it was just me.

#10 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Earn Out: To the author, proof that the publisher didn’t pay enough for the book.


So, there are a number of definitions to this effect. Could someone explain the issue? If you get paid via your advance or if you get paid via a royalty after the advance earns out, isn't the important point: that you're getting paid?


#11 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 07:49 PM:

Nice ones. I agree with Xopher, some are so close to factual definitions it becomes a bit frightening (Copyright anyone ?).

Writer: It’s not an occupation; it’s a compulsion.

There was, I think it was in Gide's journal (sorry for approximative retelling, it's been years since I read it), that lovely anecdote about a young man coming to Gide and some of his friends in the literary circles to ask whether or not he should become a writer, given that he could secure himself a well paid and stable job.
I found Gide's answer, something along the lines of "You mean you have the choice not to become a writer and you're still hesitating ?", priceless.

#12 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 08:22 PM:

If you get paid via your advance or if you get paid via a royalty after the advance earns out, isn't the important point: that you're getting paid?

Royalty statements (and if your books are doing well, checks) are issued twice a year. Which can wreak havoc on your cash flow if you're actually trying support yourself in this gig.

It's an after-the-fact perception that you (the writer) could have had that money two years ago if your publisher had just been a little more generous and foreseen the epic success that you always knew your book would be. (Forgetting that two years ago you were happy to see the advance at all.)

Did I get it about right?

#13 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 08:26 PM:

"If you get paid via your advance or if you get paid via a royalty after the advance earns out, isn't the important point: that you're getting paid?"

See "time value of money". For more, see Brad Delong's discussion of short-term vs. long-term interests in investing. For even more, it's an on-going research topic in economic psychology.

One might also have rent to pay, now.

#14 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Devil is a verb, too. People should devil more often. Well-done with the deviltry.

#15 ::: Nin Harris ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 09:55 PM:

Fun :)

I'm going to save that one since it's informative as well as funny.

#16 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 10:07 PM:

Re: "earn out"

The simple author-centric view is that it means the publisher underpaid. But given the problems an author can face later if they get too big of an advance and don't earn out, shouldn't "earn out" mean "evidence the publisher didn't overpay?" 'Cause getting a fat advance and not living up to it probably doesn't look real good, may not be good for the career of your editors, and probably doesn't help sell the next one.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 10:53 PM:

That'd be it, Carrie (12).

#18 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:04 PM:

Or you can have your day job drag your writing output to zero. And I'm not even having to write for work anymore.

I'm trying to fight that beast off. I've got a particular goal that I'm keeping secret for now, but I HAVE to fight that beast off. Gotta come home, get dinner and ribe tuchas at my laptop until I get some pages done every day. Or surrender in despair, and I've had enough of that already.

Just sayin'.

#19 ::: Julia Temlyn ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:13 PM:

I love it. Absolutely love it.

#20 ::: Pantechnician ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:31 PM:

I thought the Pub Date was the day on which you were most likely to find a naive author sitting in a pub and looking dejected over the fact that his/her book hadn't yet arrived in any nearby stores.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:32 PM:

That works too, Pantechnician.

#22 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2007, 11:54 PM:

Mass Market: A smaller, cheaper edition of a hardcover novel that is nevertheless more difficult, expensive, and uncertain to publish.

Trade Paperback: (1.) Cheaper than a hardcover; stays on the shelves longer and earns more per unit than a mass-market paperback. (2.) Technically, a softcover edition of any trim size that is whole-copy returnable, rather than being stripped for credit like a mass-market paperback.

This is very intriguing. Why is it about that mass market paperbacks that makes them so uncertain financially? And what makes trade paperbacks different? I have noticed a marked shift towards trabe paperbacks in recent years (for which, IMO, you pay an extra 4 or 5 dollars for the privilege of owning a book of irregular spine length which won't fit properly in filing boxes when you move).

This is written as a life-long paperback reader who only buys hardcovers in the extremest of necessities.

#23 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 12:26 AM:

I didn't know printer's devils had time to write so much.

Speaking of publishing, here's the manual art of manufacturing illustrated magazines. It's from 1904, but strangely relevant to our own time. Includes the serial adventure form, which the author fills out and gives to the printer, who hangs it up by the press and fills in the story himself, using standard phrases which he pulls from "The Printer's Dictionary of Serial Adventure Phrases."

#24 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 01:28 AM:

The "time value of money" thing is a little misleading. A better parallel is this hypothetical: "Congratulations! In three years, we're going to sell this $100,000 car and give you ten percent of the sale price. How would you like to be paid? A) lump sum now, guaranteed [if invested conservatively] to be worth $10,000 in three years; or, B) wait and take the 10% of whatever the market price is three years from now?"

If you need the money now, you're going to take option A, even if you can be will nigh certain that the car in question will be selling for over a million dollars in three years. And let's be honest: everyone needs the money now.

This has been another edition of Wonky Things I Learned About Finance While Working At Enron.

#25 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 01:51 AM:

#7 ::: P J Evans commented:
Even un-naive readers haunt bookstores on pub date, in hopes of getting lucky.

I can't help but thing of things not related to publishing at all when you speak of "getting lucky".

#26 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 02:26 AM:

#25: re: getting lucky - I was wondering if the proposed mechanism was by taking advantage of emotionally vulnerable authors and/or fans.

#27 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 02:27 AM:

xeger #25: And for such as us, what better place than a bookstore to hope to do so, and what better time than on pub date of a favorite author? (Whether we are hoping to find fellow un-naive readers, naive readers, or the author zieself... Who can say? ;-)

#28 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 02:53 AM:

Heresiarch, #22, the trade paperback thing is a bit confusing. As readers, we see it as those odd-sized paperbacks, bigger than normal. To the publisher, it's a different way of selling a book to retailers, with different risks, and has little to do with the physical format.

#29 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 05:05 AM:

Dave Bell @ #28: I get that--but I'm still curious as to how precisely the sales pitch (and the actual sales) varies between a paper back, a trade pb, and a hardcover. From my point of view, selling hardcovers at all is like selling heroin in fancy, hand-tooled leather satchels. I don't really care what it looks like, and I'd far rather be able to stick it unobtrusively in my pocket. I always thought of hardcovers as a way to suck a few extra dollars out of those too desperate to hold out for the paperback. Apparently this view is totally off, and I'm curious about how things actually work.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 05:38 AM:

Hey, while we're talking in the area, can I get an answer from someone in the know on a long-standing question?

Who makes the decisions about the physical nature of the book? Who decides whether the hardcover edition will be Smythe sewn or perfect bound, in particular?

(I am asking as a bookbinder, because you can't tear down and resew a perfect binding.)

#31 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 08:07 AM:

It's not really just the author who gets distressed by cover art inaccuracies. My internal geek is often irritated by hair and skin color changes, blatant borrowing of faces from celebrities of the time and covers that have nothing to do with the book they are attached to, but rather were obviously painted for some other book (for instance a Mercedes Lackey with cover art that was quite obviously originally painted for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld). Eek! I am the convention trekkie of fantasy readers, alas!

#32 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Cover art: along with "in the movie of your life, you will be played by Mike Myers" one of the worst curses you can level at someone is "your book's cover art will be painted by Rowena Morrill." If I ever finish my novel (unlikely), I will live in fear that the heroine, who is (and must be, for story reasons) short, skinny, flatchested, and drab, will be depicted as a tall, voluptuous, buxom blonde.

It's a poster, yeah, I get that. But if it advertises some other book, won't it attract readers who will be disappointed, and chase away readers who might like it?

I see this with movie trailers all the time. For example, M. Night Shyamalan's movies are always advertised as if they were horror movies, when as far as I know he's never made a horror movie. (I haven't seen The Lady in the Water, but neither The Sixth Sense nor The Village is a horror movie, and both had trailers that made them look as if they were.) Fans of Saw would absolutely hate The Sixth Sense. I resisted going to it because I hate horror movies! It turned out, of course, that The Sixth Sense is JUST the sort of movie I like.

abi, the idea of a perfect-bound hardcover is repellent in the extreme. If I pay hardcover prices I expect a book that will last a long time—which no perfect-bound book will. I never thought of the idea that a hardcover could be perfect-bound, but now I'll check.

#33 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 08:41 AM:

A small poster advertising the book to potential readers. Authors who have failed to take into account the fact that it has been bound to the outside of the book, rather than printed on an interior page, will often come to the mistaken conclusion that it is meant to illustrate the story, and be distressed by its inaccuracy.

But surely it should be advertising the book it's attached to, not some other book in the same genre? (Baen books, I'm looking at you....)

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 08:54 AM:

Abi, at Tor that kind of technical decision gets made over in Production proper -- one step removed from Managing Editorial, two steps removed from Editorial proper. Actually, it's a Publisher-and-Production thing, because budget comes into it, but beyond that I've never been quite sure why one book and not another gets embossed boards, or a special two-tone ribbon that matches the counterchanged endpapers. I'm probably missing something, but it feels like Production just takes a shine to a book -- a piece of luck, like having brownies come to live in your kitchen.

I'll bet I'm missing something. Maybe Patrick knows. He speaks more Publisher than I do.

What I do know is that decisions of that sort are made well before the book goes to be bound. You set your print run by observing such orders as have already come in from major customers, and knowing approximately what percentage of the whole this or that customer's order normally represents. Thus, if you're suddenly getting a major surge of orders, you'll know it before the binding is a done deal -- not that I think they'd necessarily change it for that, not that late in the process.

Again, I could be wrong. I'm having to guess and infer. These are the doings of people in the next country over. If you think of Editorial as ethnic Scandinavians, then Managing Editorial is Finnish, and hardcore Production people are reindeer-herding Lapps. I think this schema winds up with pressmen being scary aboriginal Siberians into mushrooms and magic drums, but that doesn't seem altogether inappropriate. There were days when I was Managing Editor when it seemed to me that all the parts of the industry I dealt with were structured around the twin imperatives of keeping normal people from having to deal directly with authors, and keeping normal people from having to deal directly with pressmen.

Here's a weird fact which you may have already heard, but still: did you know that superfluous finished hardcovers can be cut down into trade paperbacks? You strip out the page block, slice off the old spine, tuck in a new copyright page, and trim and perfect-bind it all inside a paper cover.

That one surprised me, the first time I heard about it. I had been accustomed to think of books as stable, finished objects. It was like hearing that you can turn cats into ferrets.

#35 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:00 AM:

varies between a paper back, a trade pb, and a hardcover.

I think one difference is that mass market paperbacks that don't sell get pulped and the covers returned to the publisher for a credit/refund. trade paperback and hardcovers get returned in full to the publisher for a refund and can be resold.

I'm not sure if that's what makes them so different in selling or not.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:03 AM:

That's a lot of it, Greg.

#37 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:03 AM:

It was like hearing that you can turn cats into ferrets.

It's a bit messy, but I have seen it done.

#38 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:26 AM:

Teresa at #34: that was in fact the first definition of "trade paperback" that I encountered, although that was in the context of the British market rather than the American one. I was somewhat curious as to why hardback-sized paperbacks, and was told that an awful lot of the British ones were in fact surplus hardbacks, repackaged into a format that could still be sold at a premium over the standard size paperbacks.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:57 AM:

I see nothing in the dictionary about Promotion or its 'self' version that writers sometimes foolishly attempt because the publisher didn't bother with the 'non-self' version.

I also see no definition of Reserve Against Returns.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Xopher @32:
Check your recently purchased hardbacks. I just checked the last dozen of ours, and only one (Wintersmith, by Pratchett) is sewn.

It's crept up in the last ten years or so, and it's severely constraining what I can bind. For instance, I would love to bind some Iain M Banks, but everything I have seen of his is perfect bound. On the other hand, every Le Guin hardback I own, even recent ones, is sewn.

It is less likely to lead to page loss than perfect binding of the last century - the adhesive chemistry really has improved - but the books tend to deform over time.

Teresa @34
Thank you for the information. If Patrick, or anyone else, feels like adding more, I am very, very interested to know.

I know I have no power to reverse such decisions, but at least I know whom to blame!

you can turn cats into ferrets.

Well, yes, but they still don't fit into the barrel like a good weasel.

(More normally, that does explain why many trade paperbacks are a bit narrow for their height. I'll start looking for slightly narrowed gutters, though I suspect the added spine flex would mean the books would open further, reducing the visual impact.)

#41 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 11:20 AM:

Teresa@34 wrote:
It was like hearing that you can turn cats into ferrets.

Mine seem to do this everytime somebody comes to the door - they compress, extend, and go streaking off at the speed of sound.

#42 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 11:59 AM:

Trade Publisher: One of only a handful of market players who are structurally short on bullshit.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 03:47 PM:

Reprint: (a) You'll be lucky (b) Your publisher realized that they didn't have enough copies on hand to remainder the book in style.

#44 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 05:46 PM:

Self-publishing: The delicate art of hawking your own personal bullshit from the floor of the largest slaughterhouse in the world.

#45 ::: Georges Giguere ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 07:51 PM:

E-Book: "...will nevertheless go to great effort to illegally download wonky, badly formatted e-texts of the same books in order to read them in Courier on their computer screens."

Ah, hee, ha ha! And here I thought it was just me being a curmudgeonly Luddite!

There's something about flipping paper pages that's just so much more satisfying than staring at a screen...

#46 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 09:48 PM:

Indeed, turning pages is part of the pleasure of reading -- especially with old books, whose paper is likely to have some character. But... being hard-of-hearing, I've spent almost sixty years guessing at a large percentage of the words people speak, and seem to be getting too old & cranky to adjust to guessing (sometimes, admittedly, with interesting and entertaining results) about every fifth word (as it stands now) in many mass-market paperbacks. Reading on a monitor elimates some tangible delights, yes, but at least it's possible to know what the words are, and that's my reason for reading.

#47 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2007, 10:27 PM:

There's something about flipping paper pages that's just so much more satisfying than staring at a screen...

I must be in the minority here, but I've grown so accustomed to reading on screen that I actually prefer it to using paper, to the point that I even download scans of comic books I buy if available (and if the loss in art isn't significant, like, say losing the different levels of black on black in Dave McKean's Cages).
My eyes tire far slower on screen than on paper, or so it seems to me.

I actually love (okay, lust for) books as an item when they're well made (I mean, who can resist, say, "La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade" or Hill House Publishers when given the choice and ressources ?), but apart from select few books, I'd actually rather enjoy going all digital.

But then I've been using a screen and keyboard for even longer than I've been using books.

#48 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 12:08 AM:

But then I've been using a screen and keyboard for even longer than I've been using books.

Hm, I've been using a keyboard for ... (tappity tappity tappity) 62 percent of my life. and I definitely prefer paper instantiations of books.

interesting how tastes vary on this one.

#49 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 12:20 AM:

Hard to read.... hmm. I just read a friend's entire novel manuscript in 8.5 x 11, 2-sided printed, bound in a binder. It was perhaps the most uncomfortable way to read a book. BUT I enjoyed what I was reading and was able to come up with only one cogent comment on what she wrote about (good characters, good stoiry. one small sticking point.)

I finished it while Margene was in surgery.

I had brought the newest Doyle and MacDonald work to read, but found my friend's novel needing enough thinking about that I didn't start the D & M novel until a couple of days later. (it is wonderful too)

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 12:36 AM:

Abi (40), it's an unusual event, but next time I hear of it happening, I'll try to give you a heads-up so you can see a verifiable specimen.

Serge (39), Viehl didn't have a separate entry for promotion or reserve against returns. She does mention reserve against returns in some of her other entries, and appears to regard it as a piece of randomly malign publisher behavior.

What it really is: trade books get shipped to bookstores, but they can sit there for a very long time before being sold or returned. The reserve against returns is a percentage held back from the author's sales. What it's saying is, "We hope these copies sold, but there's still a chance they're sitting there on the bookstore shelves, and could be returned to us at some later date." Holding it back means that if those books are returned, you don't have to ask the author to repay that chunk of his or her royalties.

Some publishers hold back what some authors feel is an unreasonably large amount of royalties, or they hold it back an unreasonable length of time; but it's not, as Ms. Viehl suggests, a device for automatically cancelling out royalties due the author.

#51 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 01:12 AM:

There's something about flipping paper pages that's just so much more satisfying than staring at a screen...

Paper books will never die so long as humankind still sits on toilets... and goes to beaches and sits on rowboats and sits in doctors' waiting rooms and stands on line at supermarkets and banks...

#52 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 03:06 AM:

"Stands on line"? That's where ebooks really shine, in my experience -- I can have the book on the PDA that was on my belt anyway, and just whip it out and read it one-handed. The paper book I have to dig out of my backpack, which I might not have with me anyway.

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 03:23 AM:

Teresa @ 50... reserve against returns (...) a piece of randomly malign publisher behavior...

Heheheh... Being married to a writer, I knew the logic of what it really is about. Still, it can be a bit frustrating at times.

#54 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 06:19 AM:

I've been reading ebooks since, um, some time around 1997 or 1998? Starting on a Psion 3a? (My mind fades.) It started out as a deliberate attempt to train my wonky retinas to cope with small text, and then it stuck because there's nothing quite so handy when waiting for a bus or on a long train ride as having the whole of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (unabridged) sitting on a chapbook sized gizmo in your pocket. Just as long as you also make sure to have a pocket recharger than can be stoked with AA cells if it turns out to be a really long wait. And an Otterbox 1000 or similar waterproof armour if you plan to read it in the bath (like I do).

But, um, anyway ... older eyes!

I recently bought a Nokia 770 web tablet. Best damn ebook reader platform I've ever used (although the available readers don't handle DRM'd files): the screen does 480x800 pixels and is really sharp and clear. It was a mistake though, because two weeks later (like, last week) Nokia released an upgrade, the Nokia 800, with double the memory, two SD card slots, and a faster processor. That's probably going to be the beast to get if you want to read ebooks and don't fancy being nailed down by Sony's stupidity (their current model is still a dedicated peripheral of a Windows XP box, apparently) or toting a gadget the size of a large hardcover (because "books are hardback sized so we must make our ebook-reader hardback sized").

But anyway. Ebook readers are probably a real threat, long-term, to the mass market paperback -- but not really a threat to well-produced hardcovers, and the full threat to the MMPB won't materialize until some time after the industry as a whole gets over its incredibly self-destructive fetish with non-consensual DRM.

#55 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 06:22 AM:

Oh yeah: potentially the best things about ebooks from a publishing point of view are that (a) all sales are final (no returns, ever again!), and (b) you never have to worry about reprints or remainders. Which means that in principle the accounting overheads are going to be a whole lot lower.

If only people would buy the bloody things ...

#56 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 07:02 AM:

Charlie at 55: Maybe not returns from bookshops, but there *are* people out there who will attempt to return an ebook. The sort of people who manage to buy a book from an erotic romance publisher, with two guys on the cover, and a blurb making it utterly clear that there are two guys having sex within the pages of the book, without noticing until they start reading the book that my gosh it's an m/m erotic romance.

(I have no idea whether it was one of my books. This is just one of many reasons why I ever so much prefer to be screwed by a commercial publisher raking off most of the money for my book instead of self-publishing and getting to keep 100%. The commercial publisher also rakes off Dealing With The Public.)

#57 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 07:48 AM:

They tried to return a --

Error: ENOBOGGLE

Excessive bogons on /dev/brain. Core dumped.

#58 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 09:10 AM:

People are awfully weird. Somebody once tried to return a book with a Josh Kirkby cover on the grounds that it wasn't funny.

#59 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 09:34 AM:

All right, they didn't try to return the physical electrons. Just asked for their money back...

*I* had a brain meltdown the first time I heard about people taking a dead tree book back to the shop, having read it all the way through, and demanding their money back because they didn't like the ending.

#60 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 10:44 AM:

people taking a dead tree book back to the shop, having read it all the way through, and demanding their money back because they didn't like the ending.

Now and then I've read a book and wished I could get back the time I just wasted reading it.

#61 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2007, 11:57 AM:

Greg # 60:

There are usually (not-so-subtle) clues that things aren't right well before you get to the end. I'll admit that sometimes the still small voice saying "this sucks!" is indistinguishable from the one saying "I'm tired!"

Which is why I've got a "to-finish-sometime" shelf.

#62 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 12:03 AM:

Will I shock anyone or simply confirm expectations if I say that, on balance, these days, I prefer reading on screens?

First, my Thinkpad with a hundred books and manuscripts on it weighs exactly as much as my Thinkpad empty.

Second, You Can't Grep Dead Trees.

I love a well-made book. (Next to my desk at the moment: The Book of Prefaces by Alasdair Gray. Now there's justification, all by itself, for the entire cult of the solidly physical, attentively designed, beautifully illustrated, and elegantly manufactured book.) But most books are mediocre physical experiences that would be substantially improved by elevation into the electronic noöspere.

#63 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 10:41 AM:

Sorry, Patrick, but that's only for someone with ThinkPads and such. I read at least five books a month for my reviews (some can be 500+ pages), and I'm not going to do that by staring at my ancient computer's screen to the point of eyestrain, when I could be lying back in a sunlit lounge chair in my living room! (That's for winter reading; in summer the shades stay drawn much longer.)And even a doorstop book weighs less than my 20-pound cat....

#64 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Meanwhile, I'm watching the Mac Expo keynote transcripts, and I think my ebook reader and my mobile phone just imploded into my iPod. Putting a 160dpi screen on a handheld gizmo is truly impressive, and it looks like they've added a whole bunch of smartphone functionality too. Earlier he said it runs OS/X, and it seems to use Safari as a web browser -- if that's the case, then it's the ultimate pocket ebook reader.

(That crackling noise in the background is the sound of my wallet spontaneously combusting. But you already knew I was a sucker for teh shiny, right?)

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 02:00 PM:

Patrick, that preference may partially explain your vision problems. These screens we look at all day are baa-aa-aad for our eyes.

That said, I share your frustration with dead trees re grepping.

#66 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2007, 03:13 PM:

Patrick @62,

I also love that my Treo / palm weighs less than a paperback and can be read no matter how far back the flyer in front reclines his seat. Nothing is better for interstitial time: lines, airplanes, stretches of thick traffic on the highway when commuting... (as a passenger, while the driver concentrates.)

But reading on paper is significantly faster (note: PDF link) than on screens*. 10%-30% faster.

I know for me that every 3-4 ebooks means one less book read**, so I'm picky. Hugo nominees for voting, yes. Not much else. If I went all-electronic, the 2 fewer books/week would hurt.

* Electronic ink is likely to solve much of this, but the only e-ink based readers out now implement all the UI wrong. if it's electronic, then there ought to be flexibility in presentation. (ref: Brad Templeton's guide to how to read an ebook from his 1993 Hugo Anthology- can't immediately find the link.)

** Of course this is for reading, not working. I can't imagine editing without an electronic version (although I still did markups on paper-- easier to see patterns in the color coded flags i used).

#67 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2007, 09:56 AM:

I'd really really like to see a publisher's entire backlist in Ebook form. These days I am often thwarted by things that have gone out of print long ago. While I am not broke I stay that way by spending sensibly, and $80 for a broken-down paperback does not enter into that budget.

#68 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2007, 11:35 AM:

I have to admit that either the Nokia N800 or the (not yet available) Apple iPhone could change my mind about ebooks. One of my problems with ebooks is the small page size. (This isn't a problem with laptops, but that I don't like carrying laptops.) Both the Nokia and the Apple look like they have large enough (and dense enough) displays to offer a decent page size (in an easy to read font).

Then I just have to get over the primitive notion that when I buy what has traditionally been a tangible thing, I ought to recieve a tangible thing for my money. (e.g., I usually buy the CD, then rip it onto my iPod. I invariably never listen to the CD again. However, I also do it to sidestep the DRM issues I have with most commercially available MP3s.)

#69 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2007, 12:34 PM:

For people who love beautiful books, I'd like to plug a small Canadian Publisher, Gaspereau Press in Nova Scotia. They do their own printing and produce some of the most incredible books I've seen lately. Of course, the books can be hard to locate, even in Canada, but if you get a chance take a look. www.gaspereau.com

It's interesting how ebooks have had a slow, steady increase in use, while MP3 players and such have just taken off. I think people are used to music being intangible and so are not too upset when it turns into electrons, but books have always been tangible. That being said, the more people use their computers, the more they are getting used to the idea that text can be intangible too. Yet we still print off many of the emails we receive... many people are still dedicated to the idea of having a hard copy.

#70 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2007, 04:18 PM:

iPhones freak me out!!!

I don't ever want that much of my life in one device, ever, for any reason, ever. Icky.

#72 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2007, 07:48 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale (#66: But reading on paper is significantly faster than on screens*. 10%-30% faster.

And now I'm going to go cry in a corner for all that time lost.

Thanks for the document.

#73 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2007, 06:46 AM:

ethan writes: "iPhones freak me out!!! I don't ever want that much of my life in one device, ever, for any reason, ever. Icky."

Wait until we have electronic passports and fast-track immigration checkpoints that work by presenting a document to a wireless personal area network terminal with a video teleconferencing system connecting to an offsite immigration office.

Losing your portable electronic device could bring major hassles.

#74 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2007, 04:20 PM:

No!!! Get them away from me!

(Clutches his curly-wired phone, vinyl collection, and car cassette tape player to his chest, eyes darting madly, and backs slowly to the wall....)

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2007, 04:40 PM:

Losing your portable electronic device could bring major hassles.

That's why they need to be cerebral implants as soon as possible. This will also enable the government to track where we are at all times via GPS, and punish or even execute terrorists without having to go to the trouble, expense, and risk of actually capturing them first.

You don't think that sounds good? Why do you hate freedom?

#76 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Xopher @ 75

I'd be laughing, but there was a guy on my train yesterday morning who was arguing, seriously, that microchipping people would Prevent Terrorism. I'm not sure if his higher brain functions are working well, as he also was explaining to us that hybrid cars don't sell well to the general public and cost at least $15,000 more than the same car with a conventional powertrain (with two hybrid owners across the aisle from him).

#77 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 12:12 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 52: In the circles I hang out in, "whip it out and read it one-handed" would refer to something you wouldn't do while standing in line at the supermarket.

#79 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 12:53 AM:

or maybe its 1 am and I'm too tired to think straight.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Greg, please don't ever stop reporting hunches like that one. You get full points for it. I wouldn't have been able to tell what the comment was either, and might well have zapped it, if "IrreverentFreelancer" hadn't proved on investigation to have a non-automated weblog.

#81 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 07:14 PM:

P J Evans writes: "I'd be laughing, but there was a guy on my train yesterday who was arguing, seriously, that microchipping people would Prevent Terrorism..."

Well, you know— taking a DNA print at birth and using it to begin the digital identity credential chain from cradle to grave would go a long way toward preventing document forgery. Just imagine the possibilities, people. One day we might make anonymous comment spam into a historical curiosity!

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 07:18 PM:

I still think my idea of using nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on Earth would be entirely effective in preventing terrorism, and document forgery for that matter. I don't know why it's not getting more support; it's not that much crazier than most of what the neocons are saying.

#83 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 07:28 PM:

Royalties: Percentage of the sales price earned by the author on sold copies. Occasionally, when a book surprises everyone and earns out, the author starts earning additional royalty payments. The back office required for sending these checks usually costs the publisher more to operate than the authors ever receive out of their deals. See Advance.

#84 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 07:39 PM:

I have a good friend with whom I frequently get into real knock-down hair-pulling fights* because she disregards anything I say about electronic devices and ID "upgrades" and so forth as "conspiracy theories." Anyway, I just forwarded her Patrick's sidelight about conspiracy theories. I'm afraid to talk to her now, but she deserved it. Those things are creepy.

*OK, not really. But close!

#85 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2007, 09:09 AM:

JC@68: I can't imagine "never listen[ing] to the CD again" -- iPod's massive compression is seriously lossy.

Kathryn@66: I envy the eyes that can read \anything/ "no matter how far back the flyer in front reclines his seat" -- for me that will be just as much of a problem with an e-book as with a physical one, until the type faces are more readable (i.e., mostly larger, which would probably make your figure for reading-speed loss even worse due to reducing the amount of text on display).

Going back but echoing more recent e-book discussion: Patrick, if you're doing that much screen reading and are having trouble even with progressives you should investigate monofocals tuned for your typical screen difference. YMMV, but it made a \huge/ difference for me -- especially when I insisted on actually getting measured at screen distance rather than accepting an arithmetic-mean prescription. The difference between my near and far is ~1.50; the difference between near and screen is IIRC .25. Being able to see the whole screen without tipping my head was a big win, even if it means I have to carry a second pair of glasses and switch frequently.

#86 ::: Rebecca Pack ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2007, 10:45 AM:

I've been an ebook reader since the 1990's--80's if you include technical manuals--and an ebook publisher since the early 2000's. In fact, paper is such a waste of time and space in my house that all my kids have ebook readers, PDAs, and computers. They also enjoy reading ebooks better than paperback.

Unfortunately this leaves us without books like Harry Potter since I will not illegally download them, but that's the author's loss and not mine.

#87 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2007, 08:00 PM:

God I love this rebuttal. Except one definition.

Packager: 1)If good, an understaffed small business of underpaid but dedicated recent college graduates that will be grossly underpaid for passable to good work done in 12-hour, 6-day shifts. If bad, an understaffed small business of underpaid recent college graduates that have decided that for a $10 an hour file clerk's salary paid for a job that generates enough work for three people, the boss may go screw himself and play Sudoku on gamehouse.com instead. Either way, the publisher, who gave perhaps three guidelines and told the packager to go with God, will be dissatisfied with any work produced, and will contradict themselves incessently when dictating their needs and guidelines. Even on the same proof.

2) The springboard for recent college graduates who require "4 years of experience" to do anything with their English degree, which the department assured them would be useful in the real world.

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