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Is the subscription model in trouble? Scribd dumps romance titles

indexGot this just now from Draft2Digital through which we have titles in Scribd:

As we all know, the concept of a subscription service for books is extremely new. There are several models on the market now for effectively monetizing subscriptions, and none of them exactly matches what we’re used to from traditional sales royalties. As the market experiments with different approaches, there are bound to be some missteps and false starts along the way. In fact, we should expect this business model to evolve even more in the near future.

Scribd took a significant risk putting in place a model that paid authors the same amount as a retail model for each book read by a subscriber. As we all know, romance readers tend to be incredibly avid readers. In trying to cater to this voracious readership while under this progressive payment model, Scribd has put itself in a difficult place. In a bid to better balance these operating expenses, Scribd is immediately slashing the volume of romance novels in its subscription service.

If you are receiving this email, then you are a Draft2Digital author who has published books in the romance genre to Scribd. This means that some or all of your romance novels are likely going to be delisted from their service today. (Books that are priced at free will not be removed.)

While a large number of romance novels will be removed from Scribd, it isn’t all of them. We aren’t privy to the exact guidelines Scribd is using to decide which romance novels will remain, and it’s our understanding that they remain in flux at Scribd. However, over the coming days, we will be working closely with Scribd to resolve the exact criteria and share them with you so that you’ll have the opportunity to restore all of your titles to the service.

Please Note: If you write in other genres, understand that those books will not be affected by this policy change.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and assure you that we are working with Scribd to explore alternative solutions to this challenging problem, always searching for new terms that could restore our full catalog to their service.

Believe me, this situation is just as difficult for Draft2Digital as it is for you. We also stand to lose a significant portion of our revenue due to this change. More importantly, we regret that we couldn’t give our authors more notice, but unfortunately we were informed quite late in Scribd’s decision-making process. It has been our highest priority throughout these discussions to preserve as many of your books in the service as possible, and we will continue to pursue that goal going forward.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

So. Make of it what you will. But to me it means a lot of steps in the wrong direction for subscription services. It means that if a certain genre gets too many borrows for the subscription price, yet the service has to pay authors, the system is breaking down. Something has to give. De-list titles. Already happening. Pay authors less? On the horizon.

I get that it’s a business decision. But it’s an interesting one that portends much.

Bottom line: romance readers are not particularly welcome at Scribd. You read too much.

Aint that a hell of thing to say?

The Authors Guild has a fair contract initiative

fresh green grass with bright blue skyBravo.Here it is:

To sum their key points (in bold) and how Cool Gus compares:

Half of net proceeds is the fair royalty rate for e-books

Net?  Net is a very dangerous term. That means the publisher can subtract that five martini lunch your editor just had. Our royalty rates are off gross, and higher than 50%.

A publishing contract should not be forever

You want to leave? Hey, it’s your career. Seriously. An unhappy author is not someone we want to work with, nor is it fair to the author.

A manuscript’s acceptability should not be a matter of whim

It’s your book dude. Readers will decide. Wait, what a radical concept. Let readers decide.

Advances must remain advances

Advances are old school. In a way, they skew the entire process. Yes, people say they allow the author to have money to write; except for fiction, no new author gets an advance until the book is done. So. Think about that. I don’t get any advances now, but I do have great checks coming in every month.

Publishers should share legal risk

This is questionable. The copyright is in the author’s name.

Non-compete clauses must let the authors write

indexWhat’s a non-compete clause? Yes, I know what they are. We actually have to make sure our hybrid authors get in their contracts from their trad publishers that they are allowed to indie publish. But we look at it the other way– one of our authors, Colin Falconer, got an offer on a book we’d published for him, Isabella: Braveheart of France. We were like, hey dude, go for it. What’s good for you is good for us.

Options must be fair and paid for

What’s an option. Yes, I know. It’s your book, dude.

The author must have final say

Absolutely. This might be the biggest thing. The author has final say on everything– cover, editing, copy, pricing, sales, etc. We advise, using our wealth of experience, but ultimately it’s the author’s book which means the author is the boss.  Writers write. Readers read. Anyone in between must provide value or, as we used to say in the Infantry, get the hell out of the way.

Payments must move into the 21st century

Duh. I’m not sure trad publishing understand computing has been invented. And the internet. Where sales can be tallied by the second, not by six months. We pay quarterly, and in some cases, monthly, as soon as the check comes in, we send our check out.


Here’s the thing though. Will any big name author, who is part of the Guild, be willing to put their own contract on the line for this to be enacted? And here’s the other dirty secret– big name authors have very different contracts than midlist authors. Different royalty rates, different clauses– and I’m not saying that’s wrong. They earned it. But stop acting like you don’t.

We’ve seen the former president of the Guild, Scott Turow, post a blog about how bad Amazon is. Then cut off the comments when it went against him. We’ve seen a bunch of authors sign a letter in the NY Times about how bad Amazon is. But every single one of them still has their books for sale on Amazon. Which brings up the key point:  Authors have too long given up control. Big name authors get paid enough, that they are loyal. That’s capitalism. But to have leverage, someone is going to have to put something on the line. That’s also capitalism. Let’s see who does.

Meanwhile, Cool Gus apparently has what the Author’s Guild wants.

Focusing Your Idea—Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

When you write your one sentence down, check to see what the subject of the sentence is:

  1. Character
  2. Protagonist or antagonist
  3. Plot

Whichever you lead with sends an immediate message to the reader as to which is more important. Check to see what the verb is

  • Positive or negative
  • Action or re-action verb

You usually want the verb for the protagonist to be positive, and for the protagonist to eventually act. Firefly was a fun series, but it didn’t get renewed because there was a fundamental flaw: the protagonist and crew were always escaping and they had no goal other than to not get caught

Area51_AmazonWhat If?

  • Start your sentence with “What if . . .”
  • Each word must mean something to the reader
  • Don’t be a secret keeper
  • “What if a thief was using a movie set as a cover for a heist?” Don’t Look Down
  • “What if mankind didn’t originate the way we thought?” Area 51

Another way to try to figure out what the core of your novel is this: What is the climactic scene? This is when the protagonist and antagonist meet to resolve the primary problem that is the crux of the novel. This is the scene the entire book is driving towards.

Fictional Memoirs

  • First novels tend to be blood-lettings and focused on the author, not the reader. Most of us have not led that exciting a life to write a novel about it
  • Will anyone else care? Your job as the writer is to make them care

How Is Your Idea Different?

It isn’t: every idea has been done, the difference comes in the transfer to story. Usually through

  • Unique character. This is usually the best way. Come up with a fascinating cast of characters, well written, and you could write about anything
  • Unique setting. The same idea in a different place, is a different story
  • Unique POV. The same idea, told from a different point of view, is a different story. Even the same story told from a different point of view is different
  • Unique intent. You twist the same idea so that it has a very different impact on the reader

Where’s The Shiver?

What excited you so much that you decided to sit in the dark and write 100,000 words? That’s not normal, as already noted. What excites people you talk to about your book? I know I’m on target with an idea if others pick up my excitement when I discuss it.

Remember, as a writer, you are selling emotion and logic. And Kirk always trumps Spock.

A key to selling your book is being able to communicate this shiver to other people. To get them as excited as you were when you first began writing.

  • What excited you?
  • What excites the people you tell it to?
  • Where’s the emotion, the passion?
  • What does the reader relate to?
  • Can you communicate the shiver?

What’s The Payoff?

  • How does the idea spark a story that will provide an intent/theme that provides catharsis?
  • How does the idea create a resolution that ‘surprises’ and satisfies the reader?
  • Will readers be thinking about, talking about your idea after they finish reading the book?
  • Will they find different layers when they re-read it?
  • The payoff most likely peaks in the resolution of the story

Study And Find Ideas

  • Look for the original idea in every book you read and every movie you watch.
  • Usually a sentence or a scene will jump out at you.
  • As soon as you finish a book, immediately go back and re-read the opening chapter. The same with watching a movie. If you can, re-watch the opening and now you will find all those things you didn’t consciously note the first time. One thing you might pick up in the opening of either the book or movie the second time around is the mirroring of the climactic scene. You didn’t register it the first time because you don’t yet know what the climactic scene is. A screenwriter for television told me the key to a show is often in the opening credits and in the music for the credits.

Getting closer with your idea? Is it exciting?

PS: Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. I hear that all the time. The reason for that is in the next blog post, next week: Idea is not story!



Idea Examples— Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Kernel Ideas Can Be Anything

A character

A plot

A setting or scene

An intent

A “What If”

TN_ETERNITY_BASE(2)Let’s look at some ideas

  • Character: “A housewife and female assassin must uncover the truth of the men in their lives in order to save their own.” Bodyguard of Lies
  • Plot: “What if a Federal agent investigating a murder, finds out it’s connected to an illegal CIA operation?” The Green Berets: Chasing The Ghost
  • Setting or scene: “An international treaty bans weapons in Antarctica: What if the US put nuclear weapons there and lost track of them?” The Green Berets: Eternity Base
  • Intent/Theme: “Connection leads to a full life.” Don’t Look Down.
  • “What If”: “What if people going into the Witness Protection Program really disappear?” The Green Berets: Cut Out

For an example of What If and how we can make it better:

What if Mary has to stop a band of terrorists?

How could this be improved? What does Mary mean? Not much. How about ‘a housewife’? How about making her a special housewife with an anomaly. What if an obsessive-compulsive housewife? However, that term hints at a comedic tone.

Stop a band of terrorists from what? How about ‘assassinating the president’? so we understand what’s at stake.

This gives us: What if an obsessive-compulsive housewife has to stop a band of terrorists from assassinating the President?

That pops, but it makes me wonder how we balance the comedic possibility of the OCD with the high stakes thriller of the assassination? Do you see how your idea raises questions? Both good and bad. This is why we spend almost an entire day at the Write on the River retreat working on this one sentence. Putting it on the whiteboard and dissecting every word. Because . . .

The Importance of Your Kernel Idea

  • It starts your creative process
  • Remembering it keeps you focused
  • It’s often the core of the pitch to sell the book

I stress this in my teaching because this one idea is critical to the writing process. It’s the one thing I believe every writer should start with, or at the very least, find it before getting too far into the draft.

I also believe every writer should have this on a piece of paper, post-it note, or taped to their computer screen where they can see it at the beginning of every writing session.

Sometimes the kernel idea could even be a way to tell a story, rather than the story itself. Telling the same story from two different perspectives, usually presents two different stories. For example, an idea is “What if a person with limited mental capacity interacts with the world?” The film A Dangerous Woman (film works the same way) shows normal, everyday life with the main character being a woman who always tells the truth. You want to talk about someone who is dangerous. Think about it. The film is an excellent portrayal of our society, but the idea was the different perspective. What was Forrest Gump about? It had the same basic what if. Wasn’t it the main character’s perspective that made the story, rather than the actual events?

thousand acresA different point of view can be a way to tell a story that’s already been done in a fresh way. In Beowulf the monster had his story to tell and John Gardner did it in Grendel. Who was the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre? She had her story and Jean Rhys told it in Wide Sargasso Sea. Jane Smiley put King Lear on a present day farm and called it A Thousand Acres. She won the Pulitzer Prize for it.

Whenever I watch a film or video I try to figure out what was the original idea the screenwriter had. For example, in the movie True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino, there is a scene at the end where there are four groups of people in a room all pointing guns at each other in a classic Mexican standoff. Rewatching the film, I can see the entire movie driving to that one climactic scene. In an interview, Tarantino said that scene was the kernel idea. He didn’t know who the people with the guns were (that’s character); where the room was (setting); why they were in the room (motivation); whether it was the beginning, end or middle of the movie (story and plot); what the result of this stand-off would be; etc. etc. He just had this vision to start with.

When I watched the movie The Matrix, the scene that stuck out to me was where all those people were plugged and being tapped for their electrical power. I almost sense that was the kernel idea—the screenwriter read or heard that the human body produced X amount of electricity and sat down and thought what he could do with that idea. I think he then came up with the concept of the Matrix itself as a follow on.

Are you thinking about your idea? Do you know what your one sentence is?

We’ll spend the next couple of posts going deeper into this!


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