4.23.2006

I guess it was bound to happen

Page 7 of today's New York Times Book Review section is a full page ad from iUniverse for a book I saw two years ago in my slush pile.

The ad copy says "I sent it out to agents. No one responded". That is a bald faced lie. I not only responded, I sent comments AND she wrote back with revisions, and I responded again. I knew I couldn't sell the book. That's a far different cry from "no one responded".

Publishing may be screwed up and agents aren't perfect but it's clear to me that the purpose of this ad is not to sell Meg's book but to get other people to sign up with iUniverse.

Other points of note: retail price for the book: $26.95 (paper)
Amazon rank yesterday: 500,000+
Amazon rank today: 6,415

42 comments:

Richard said...

Well, then the ad had the "unintended consequence" of selling the book, too, didn't it?

Chris said...

Someone on a list noted that Amazon ranking also is boosted by how often a page is *viewed* as well as sales. So the fact that she bought a lavish ad got people to the page, which boosted the ranking. But it didn't necessari;y mean sales.

Richard said...

By the way, I know Meg ... which puts me about one email away from knowing your secret identity. I wonder how I can use this information to my advantage. Sincerely, Lex Luthor.

Miss Snark said...

Amazon rankings aren't sales numbers.

I don't think Meg bought this ad. I'm pretty sure the printing company iUniverse did.

Richard said...

I can tell you for sure that Amazon views have no effect whatsoever on the rank, because if they did, my book would be number one ... based on my obsessive-compulsive viewing of the page alone.

Richard said...

Of course, I-Universe bought it. I'm just saying that it works to the advantage of both I-Universe and the author, while you imply that the author is being exploited in some way.

Anonymous said...

You know Richard, a lot of us know who Miss Snark is or at least think we do. But why would we tell? We all enjoy reading this blog. It's become a hangout for writers and none of us wants to spoil the fun. Hope you don't either.

Richard said...

of course, amazon's ranks reflect sales. what are you smoking tonight, miss snark? have you moved from gin to crack?

Richard said...

i'll take your request under advisement, anonymous.

Miss Snark said...

let's be clear: Amazon rankings reflect the position of the book relative to other books. If this book gets a lot of page views or click throughs on a night when other books aren't, the rank goes UP. It's not an absolute meausre of product across the cash wrap scanner. You can see this by virtue of the The Alphabet of Manliness...a book that bounced to #1 before it was available to purchase.

Miss Snark said...

of course that would be "measure". Perhaps I have been confusing "gin" with "ginseng" all day. That would explain a great deal...

Richard said...

You can see this by virtue of the The Alphabet of Manliness...a book that bounced to #1 before it was available to purchase.

you can get to number one by virtue of pre-publication sales, madam, but believe me, you cannot get there by page views or click-throughs. if you could, some six-year-old could probably rig up some hacking software to drive any book to number one.

Anonymous said...

Yo Richard - most site counters only count you once a day if you're logging on from the same ips address - no matter how many times you obsessively view your page - or anything else near and dear to your heart.

Miss Snark said...

We're talking at cross purposes here. Amazon rankings are a measure of movement, not of sales numbers. That's what I'm trying to convey. If no other book is moving as much as a particular title, for whatever reason, the ranking goes up. If you buy 10 copies of your masterpiece and no other book sells more than 9, you're #1 even if tomorrow sellling 10 books drops you to 100,000 place.

Richard said...

here's all i'm saying, darlin' ... if meggy's book went from a half million to six thousand on the rank tonight, then she sold some books. maybe not a lot, but my guess is that it's at least ten or twenty. she did so by virtue of an ad that i-universe bought and paid for. so it's hard to make the case that i-universe is out to screw its clients. she got a book published that no one in the nyc establishment was interested in, and now she's getting some good support from her publishing company. it's win-win all around. so why does it upset you? i went with a conventional publisher, and believe me, they haven't bought any full-page ads on my behalf in the new york times yet. i'm still waiting for that.

River Falls said...

Richard, sorry, my friend, but Miss Snark is right. Within the last year, Amazon changed their ranking systems. It was always arcane, but now it definitely includes page views as well as sales. My editor says that the only thing Amazon rankings are useful for tracking is whether a particular promotion (an ad in the NYTBR, for example) reached anyone.

Mac said...

This should be almost criminal if the writer is paying for the ad instead of the publisher.

"I sent it out to agents. No-one responded" does NOT make people think it was an entertaining or interesting book.

The advertisement is dissing the book and pumping the publisher.

Kinda like an ad for online personals: "No woman who saw me ever wanted to date me - so I resorted to VanityMatchmaker.com to find women. Err - anyone interested in me?"

Mac

Anonymous said...

Yo Dick - darlin'

Ten or twenty sales doth not a career make.

Sure we all understand the frustration that drove poor Meg to iuniverse. But just to be clear here: they don't care a flying potato cake about her career. They're just out to sell their services to the next discouraged writer.

I wish Meg all the best.

Richard said...

Sure we all understand the frustration that drove poor Meg to iuniverse. But just to be clear here: they don't care a flying potato cake about her career. They're just out to sell their services to the next discouraged writer.

talk to me after you sign your first contract with random house, anonymous, and you find out how much they care about your career. all i'm saying it that miss snark and some of her groupies have a bee in their collective bonnet about i-universe and its ilk ... when, in fact, i-universe is providing a service that could be right for some writers under certain circumstances.

December Quinn said...

Hey, Richard, if you're at all interested in pretending your arguments here aren't personal, you should remove the long diatribe about Miss S from your blog.

Anonymous said...

And it's all off topic ... if this author is selling some books because people are viewing, fine. And the fact that an editor took time to correspond with this author about this book suggests it is not the typical slush fodder but might have some merit.

Also, people assume Miss Snark is a singular entity. For all we know she is a composite character drawn by a committee of agents and that gin pail is really the bathtub.

Decoder glasses again -- can never tell if it's a Q or a G

Anonymous said...

" . . . when, in fact, i-universe is probably a service that could be right for some writers under certain circumstances."

You mean like self-immolation is right for some writers under certain circumstances?

Hey - and thanks for referring to me as a groupie - makes me feel young and hip.

PS I really do hope Meg succeeds hugely - she has all my support. I'll keep my fingers crossed for her.

River Falls said...

Richard, I signed with a big NY publisher and I can tell you they care a lot more about my career than iUniverse ever could. My publisher has never taken a dime from me.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oooh, self-immolation. Now that's right for me!

What were we talking about?

Ah, the NYT ad for poor Meg with i-Universe. That was the original post, yes? It's a bad deal for her all around. Admittedly, I don't know who Meg is, but she has a struggle ahead of her. POD ain't easy.

Richard, you and I could have a most spirited debate about POD vs. traditional, but this is not the place for it. Perhaps I'll pay a visit to your blog. :-)

*rolls up sleeves*

PS Word verf is ipanvpho. Ivanhoe with a lisp?

Richard said...

i enjoy reading this blog, despite whatever differences miss snark and i have had in the past. and i think miss snark is generally offering sound advice. but i see a lot of people on here who have had their egos beaten down by rejections from the nyc publishing establishment. they desperately need to feel superior to someone, so they've decided to feel superior to the people who publish on i-universe and other p.o.d. companies. but it's not that simple. i have one friend who has had three novels published by william morrow & company, but he decided to publish his latest book with i-universe. i know of other extremely reputable writers -- wiliam f. buckley, jr. for example -- who have used i-universe to put remaindered books back in print. and i'll tell you something else. these folks who publish with i-universe have something else some of the wannabes on this blog don't have. namely, GUTS. it's easy to tell yourself that you're an undiscovered genius and console yourself with stories about how vincent van gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, etc. etc. but these people believe in themselves and believe in their book enough to get it out there by any means necessary. and they're willing to face the kind of criticism, rejection, and yawning indifference that greets every published book. you think it hurts to get a form letter from a literary agent? wait til you get your first bad review. you think it's hard to find a publisher? wait til you try to find a radio show host or a newspaper reporter who's willing to give your book some publicity. and if you think the publicity department at simon & schuster is gonna be a big help with this, you haven't even visited the block yet, much less been around it a few times. if you had, you'd know that the experience of being published by random house and the experience of being published by i-universe isn't as different in real life as it is in your dreams.

Rei said...

News headline: "Person who works in direct marketting, knows I-Universe headlining author, goes to writer site and encourages use of I-Universe."

Perhaps this is a bit cynical, but can we say Astroturf?

Ralph said...

Oh, dear. Things are getting a little snippy here, and there's really no reason for it. People are arguing all sorts of irrelevant shit like numbers and rankings and crap, when the core issue is the definition of a single word.

Perhaps a review is in order. Let us suppose there is a writer, hardworking and earnest, to whom we will refer by the pseudonym 'Meg'. She has worked with disturbing diligence (one might say obsessiveness) for the last few years and has produced a pretty good story. Pretty damn good, as later events will prove.

"Meg" sent this pretty damn good story to at least one reputable agent. That reputable agent (who, for the sake of argument we will call 'Miss Snark') was impressed by the pretty damn good story and forfeited precious gin-swilling and poodle-cuddling time to try to turn the pretty damn good story into a pretty damn salable story.

Ah, the chasm. Condemn crass commercialism if you want, lament the bygone days of art for art's sake, but agents need to know where the next bag of Science Diet is coming from.

Eventually, Agent Snark must admit that the story will not be in her wheelhouse. She regretfully informs the author. Perhaps there is someone else out there who can make it happen.

Meg, who knows she has a pretty damn good story, tries zero or more other agents, and approaches zero or more publishers. In the view of the Giant Monolithic Establishment, she does not have a salable story.

She reads over her story again, and comes to the same conclusion she did before she faced the Massive Wall of Rejection. She wrote a pretty damn good story. It's even better now, thanks to the feedback she has recieved. But she has no deal. Meg, believing in herself, says, "screw those guys. I'll publish it myself." She racks up a big charge on her Visa card, and she's published. Which gains her nothing.

Until, not long after, iUniverse comes looking for a promotional angle. They flog legions of flunkies who must read through all the crap recently printed. Suddenly one of them looks up and says, "This is a pretty damn good story!" The pretty damn good story makes its way to the marketing department, where someone nods and says, "We can use this."

Meg gets an email. "We want to feature you in a nationwide media campaign." Meg knows she's written a pretty damn good story. Now she's going to go from Amazon's basement to somewhere in Amazon's pantry. The marketers put reasonably rationalizable words into her mouth, build a huge ad, and npw is her big career moment. iUniverse isn't going to promote crap; they're looking for respectability. That out of all the titles they've printed they chose hers is a tremendous endorsement. There is no denying now that this is a pretty damn good story.

And here is where we hinge on the definition of a single word. The marketers say she was ignored by agents. In the context of the marketing for iUniverse, "ignore" means, "decline to represent". Meg has become the poster-child for the downtrodden artist who must fork over her own cash to be heard. It is entirely understandable that an agent who cares for the welfare of the writers she represents and even those she doesn't would find this horrifying. It is also understandable that a writer faced with the opportunity of a lifetime will allow the marketing department's definition of terms to prevail.

Best case, enough people buy Meg's book that her next effort, an even better story, gets notice. That iUniverse picked her as the Great Writer Kept Down by the Man is not a small thing. Ideally, thousands of people will read and agree that she's written a pretty damn good story. She'll get lots of feedback and criticism, and her next yarn will be a pretty darn salable story.

The worst case is not for Meg, it is for the people who also think they have a pretty damn good story, and drop a chunk of money down to prove it. Meg was not ignored by the agents, in fact she was nurtured by at least one. These guys are promoting a rather unhealthy belief in self: Who cares what hundreds of professionals believe? If you think your writing is good then it is! Pay us and find the fame you crave!

I can't tell you how many times I've fallen for that. Seriously. It's embarrassing.

The astute will realize that best case and worst case are not exclusive. There is a subtext to the ad that is yet more disturbing, which is, "If you pay the publisher, you don't need an agent!" If I had this whole ramble over again, I'd probably start with that.

Daphne Major said...

Nice job Ralph. Remind me to read anything you ever write..

Mark said...

Well forget Richard then. On to Ralph. This story is a bit too long building for my taste. Not to mention ambiguous or maybe it's just the Wild Turkey?

"iUniverse isn't going to promote crap; they're looking for respectability."

If this is sarcasm, mission accomplised. If not, ooh boy.

Here's the deal from someone who has two of these things: one cost nothing, the second $99. Worth:$0.

Meg paid big money to both print the book and buy that ad in the Times. She was charged $1000 to get in it. I got the same offer and laughed all the way to the recycle bin.

That's the take home lesson.

Richard said...

Nice job Ralph. Remind me to read anything you ever write..

I'll buy Ralph's book if it's published by Knopf, but not if it's published by HarperCollins. Because I love all of Knopf's books, hardly ever miss one ... but I hate HarperCollins books. Can't stand 'em.

Ralph said...

Thanks for the clarification, Mark. I was guilty of making the assumption that iUniverse would pay for something like that. I stand corrected.

I would hope that iUniverse did pitch in some cash as well, or Meg could have placed the ad herself and concentrated on her work, without all the Yippee-iUniverse stuff.

I would have thought Wild Turkey to be an appropriate side dish to my previous rambling post. Next time try scotch, and see if things make any more sense. Yes, yes, there is research to be done!

Finally, a time will come soon when you can read (or boycot) at least a little of what I have written, but the name Ralph will not be anywhere on it.

Miss Snark said...

I'm pretty sure iUniverse paid for this ad. Those things don't come cheap, AND they run one like this pretty regularly. This just happened to be the first one for which I knew the work.

Mark said...

And miss snark I'm saying they paid for it with author money. I've gotten the offer to pay them $1000 to be in an ad. It's part of ther self-marketing package.

Publisamerica does the same thing. Or tried to.

Mark said...

Wonderful irrelevant comparison Richard. Yeah there's no difference between a mainstream book and a POD from a vanity press. That would be your classic false analogy fallacy. Compare the editing, selectivity, offset printing, distribution and they're not even close. Anyone aho can't see that is well, a vamity press promoter. I've certainly seen enough of that in the last five years.

Mark said...

Read it and weep.

iUniverse Marketing

Only it's worse than I remembered. $2500 per author I believe unless I missed something.

Richard said...

"I'm pretty sure iUniverse paid for this ad. Those things don't come cheap, AND they run one like this pretty regularly. This just happened to be the first one for which I knew the work."

Miss Snark is quite right on this point. A full page ad in the NYT for $1,000? You couldn't even take the ad salesman to lunch in the pool room for that amount.

Mark said...

Apparently rading the link is too much trouble Richard? $2500 per author in the same page ad. Hello! Meg paid $2500.

Richard said...

"Apparently rading the link is too much trouble Richard? $2500 per author in the same page ad."


Apparently reading the New York Times is too much trouble for you, dear sir. The advertisement under discussion in this thread was a full-page ad featuring only one author.

Richard said...

"

Wonderful irrelevant comparison Richard. Yeah there's no difference between a mainstream book and a POD from a vanity press. That would be your classic false analogy fallacy. Compare the editing, selectivity, offset printing, distribution and they're not even close. Anyone aho can't see that is well, a vamity press promoter. I've certainly seen enough of that in the last five years."


Well, come back to me after you've been published by a big NYC house once or twice, and we'll see if your views haven't moderated somewhat. I've had two non-fiction books published by William Morrow, and I can tell you for sure that if I ever write another non-fiction book, I will publish my next one myself. Wouldn't have said that twenty years ago, because the publishing companies controlled the gates of distribution. But with the advent of the Internet in general, and Amazon in particular, that's no longer true. Or at least not as true as it used to be. If it were the right kind of book, I'd go P.O.D. in a heartbeat. Look, I understand the thrill of being published by a big prestigious house. But once you've had the pleasure of seeing your name in print once, you start to see the whole thing for what it really is -- a business.

Richard said...

I'll tell you a story that's even more to the point, Mark (if Miss Snark will indulge me for just one more posting here). My first book was called "Leaving the Nest." It was a book for young people about how to cook, clean, find an apartment, balance your checkbook, etc. The co-author was my mother. The idea was, "Now that you're grown up, you don't have your mother to help you with these things, so take my mother ... please!" At any rate, we sold it to William Morrow for an advance of $4,000. It had five printings and we probably made about $7,000 or $8,000 in royalties altogether. In other words, by conventional publishing standards, it did extremely well. Right about the same time, someone else came up with the same idea. I'm not saying they stole it from us ... it's quite possible for two people to have the same idea at the same time. It was also a mother and son collaboration, and it was called "What Your Mother Never Told You." It was published in a three-ring binder sort of affair, like a cookbook. It was self-published. Well, over the next ten years or so, I saw that book for sale in every mail-order catalog, every cooking store, every darn place I turned around, I saw that book for sale. And sell it did. My guess is that book made its authors at least $100,000 over the years. So I got the prestige of saying that I'd been published by William Morrow. And the other guy got a weekend home. You decide which is better, Mark.

Jordan Lake said...

Who cares about the ego of the publishing world. We have to write well. There is nothing we can do about it. We have the talent or we don't. If I don't make it, it's because I'm not good enough. The publishing industry can't change for me, nor can I for them. If what I have to say is relevant and saleable, then I get published. If I do not know how to say what I want people to hear, or if people aren't interested then I just keep writing. The fact is that publishing houses pay to have good authors in their fold, I-universe gets paid to have bad authors in their's. Simple. Factual. Beyond that it's pointless.

Rei said...

Lets use a little logic, Richard. Of couse, first we'll have to ignore my previous comments about the suspiciousness of a person who

A) works in direct marketting
B) knows a featured iUniverse author, and
C) comes to a writer-focused site and plugs iUniverse

(i.e., it all reads as astroturf)

Lets ignore that for now. So self publishing, like your half-finished anecdote involving purely speculative sales figures for the other book, is fabulously profitable? More profitable than the big houses? Interesting.

Where are the hordes of agents clambering onboard?

Agents get a cut of your profit. If it was so fantastically profitable, why aren't all of them, let alone any of them, doing that? Are they simply complete idiots?