Writer's Bloc
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from The SFWA Bulletin #169, Spring 2006


The Authors Guild Takes on Google

    Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection on the subject of Fair Use: Its Effect on Consumers and Industry on November 16, 2005. His remarks were excepted in the Winter 2006 Authors Guild Bulletin. I am further excepting them here.

    In early November, he testified, Microsoft announced an agreement with the British Library to scan 25 million pages from the library's collection. Those pages will be made available at MSN's Book Search site next year [2006]. Yahoo is also in the game, announcing last month that it's working with a group called the Open Content Alliance, which includes Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and the libraries of the University of California and the University of Toronto, to scan books that will be made available though Yahoo's search engine. Since that announcement, Microsoft has signed on to make the books accessible through its search engine as well. In building their databases of books, the Microsoft and Yahoo efforts are properly sticking to scanning works that are in the public domain or those for which they receive permission….

    Google is working with four major American libraries, the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library, and one British library, Oxford University's Bodleian Library. Some of these libaries are offering Google only public domain works, but Michigan and reportedly Stanford are offering up works still protected by copyright….

    But here's the bad part. Google says that its copying of those books – that its scanning of countless copyrighted volumes, then using optical character recognition technology to digitize the text of those works to create files to assemble into a new, unimaginably vast database, surely one of the largest databases ever assembled – that all of that copying, and use of these works, would be fair use, so it doesn't need a license from anyone for this copying, For good measure, it's handing over a digital copy to its partner libraries, and telling them it's OK to post the works to their websites. That, too, it appears, is to be considered fair use.

    Since there's no license needed, in Google's view, Google doesn't have to give rights holders contractual assurances of the security of their database. Could a backup tape go astray from Google or any of its partner libraries, unleashing a couple hundred thousand copyrighted works onto the Internet?...

    What remedy would authors and publishers have if these databases are deemed to be fair use copies but one of them is hacked into or otherwise finds its way onto the Internet? If we're fortunate, the negligent party would have substantial resources, but stating a claim against that entity might well be impossible. There's no license, so there's no breach of contract….

    What about uses by the partner libraries? The only contractual obligation imposed on libraries – at least in the sample available to us from the University of Michigan contract at Google – allows the University of Michigan to use the works at its website. No mention is made in the contract of limiting browsers to so-called fair use snippits….

    What if the University of Michigan is wrong, and its use oversteps the bounds of fair use? Authors and publishers could just sue for damages, right? No, we'd probably be out of luck; as a state institution, the University of Michigan is immune from damages claims under copyright law….

    At some point, we believe that Google will want to do the right thing, and look to a licensing solution for the use it wants to make of these millions of works. It's too early to discuss what such a license would look like, but its general outlines might be guessable. Revenues, in the form of some reasonable split of advertising income, could be paid to authors and publishers. Rights holders would have the right to review Google's security protocols, and Google would be obliged to contractually guarantee the security of its database. A negotiated license could pave the way for a real online library – something far beyond the excerpts Google intends to offer through its Google Library program. [end of testimony; italics in original]

    WWA President Rita Cleary commented on the testimony in her President's Letter in the February 2006 Roundup Magazine.

      Google is also trying to extend the scope of "public domain" to mean "out of print." Many of us have resold those books years later. Many WWA members depend on the earnings from sales of reprints, subsidiary rights, and licenses. The right to store digitally and download all or part of copyrighted works has commercial value that should be reserved for the copyright holder. With security problems what they are, this writer does not believe that Google will limit copies to short excerpts if longer "excerpts" or "condensed" whole works become commercially viable.

    She quoted outgoing Authors Guild President Nick Taylor as stating, "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of the copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."

    Ironically, according to a news brief in the February 2006 RWR, Google gave the Library of Congress a $3 million donation to help start a World Digital Library. In addition, Google will provide computer equipment to aid the LoC to develop standards for indexing these digital collections.

The Book Trade - 2004

    The Book Industry Study Group publishes massive surveys of the book trade annually, if late in the year, and their 2004 report was summarized in the February 2006 RWR by Eileen Wilks.

    Publishing industry revenue $28.6 billion
    Wholesale value of 2004's stripped books $801 million
    Number of books published 195,000
    Average number of copies sold 11,800
    Publisher average per-title revenue $146,667
    Average cover price of book $12.43

    A squib in the December 2005 RWR from the same report adds that the used-book market had $2.2 billion in sales for 2004, an increase of 11% over 2003, the most growth of any segment of the industry. A total of 111.2 million used books were sold in independent bookstores, on the Web, and through alternative markets like yard sales and thrift stores.

    And though I can't find the reference again, I'm going to trust my memory to say that the numbers of books published have been wildly inflated by the huge increase in small press, PoD, and self-publishers, which are up to 86,000 imprints.

Names in the News

    PW has been busily interviewing f&sf writers, and Campbell Geeslin culled through the issues for us in his Winter 2005 Along Publishers Row column in the Authors Guild Bulletin.

    R. W. Salvatore said, "I think school beat the reading out of me, mostly by giving me books I found irrelevant and just plain boring. My love for literature began anew in 1978, my freshman year of college, when, during a tremendous blizzard, I escaped to Middle Earth for an adventure with Bilbo Baggins. Nothing's ever been the same since."

    Kelly Link said, "We had two goals [for Small Beer Press]. One was to break even; the other was to make artifacts that looked as much as possible like real books…. The design and making of the books was the most fun… putting covers together, choosing a font…. We get to do whatever we want." Her first short story collection, Strange Things Happen, published by Small Beer, not only sold out it's first printing of 2,000 copies but is now in its fifth printing.

    Then there's Michael Crichton, whose new novel State of Fear denies global warming. Senator James Imhofe made the book required reading for his Environment and Public Works committee, calling global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

    Other comments came from the Natural Resources Defense Council: "more silly than scary"; the Brookings Institute: the book is "notable mainly for its nuttiness"; and the Union of Concerned Scientists: State of Fear "does not reflect scientific fact."

Markets Outside the Box

    G. Miki Hayden's Market Report column in the April 2006 TTD, has an entry on the quarterly print magazine Dark Discoveries, which is looking for stories in the dark mystery or horror genres. They'll accept up to 5000 words, but you can query for longer ones. Unsurprisingly they're looking for "original ideas and new twists on old conventions." For that you get $25 plus two copies for a new stories or $15 plus two copies for reprints that haven't been widely seen. Payment upon acceptance. You can also submit articles, interviews and reviews. Send hardcopy to James Beach, Dark Discoveries, 142 Woodside Drive, Longview, WA. 98632. Put the story in the body of an email or attach as an .rtf file and send to darkdiscoveries@msn.com.

    You may occasionally note that deadlines in the market reports in the Bulletin cut a bit too close for comfort. Here's one that comes in plenty of time. Hayden's January column talks with Lida E. Quillen, publisher at the small press Twilight Times Books. They do fantasy and science fiction titles, and are OK if the stories cross genre with mysteries. They want an email query before an electronic submission of a cover letter, synopsis, first chapter and marketing plan in the body of an email message. Start the subject line with ttb or ttbooks and send to publisher@twilighttimes.com. Oh, and their website now warns that they will not be open for submissions until July 15 to August 5, 2006.

    The February 2006 RWR has paranormal market updates to last issue's report. Ellora's Cave Publishing has two lines it's accepting manuscripts for. Ellora's Cave wants all erotic romance genres except female dominance. The most popular subgenres are paranormal, vampire/shapeshifter, futuristic, and bondage/male dominance. It's also looking to acquire gay/lesbian romance. Although it prefers books over 50,000 words, it will accept manuscripts as small as 20,000 words. The Cerirdwen Press line wants paranormal and futuristic stories of at least 50,000 words. For both, send first three chapters and final chapter in .doc or .rtf format along with a detailed synopsis to submissions@ellorascave.com or submissions@cerridwenpress.com.

    At Kensinger Publishing, John Scognamiglio is actively looking for paranormal romances and sci-fi fantasy romances of 85,000 to 100,000 words. Hardcopy submissions only. Include cover letter with publishing credits and 3 to 5 page synopsis. New writers must submit fill manuscript; previously published ones three sample chapters plus a copy of your previous book. Send to John Scognamiglio editor-in-chief, Kensington Publishing Corp., 850 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022.

    And it had to happen: editors are now announcing their wants through their LiveJournal entries. For this latest peek into the future of publishing, check out what Anna Genoese of Tor has to say at alg.livejournal.com/81163.html

      I have space on my late 2007/early 2008 paranormal romance list. I need contemporary paranormal -- psychics, witches, tarot, whatever. 50% romance, 50% other plot. Go and read a bunch of the paranormals that I've edited to see what I like. Also, keep in mind that I have yet to publish a historical paranormal, and I would love to. Unfortunately, they are hard to get quite right. If you can do it, yay for you!

      Sexy is fine. Not-so-sexy is also fine. No fewer than 70,000 words, no longer than 100,000.

      Specifically I am looking for a Hannukkah book. I want a book about Jewish people with some kind of Judaism-based magic. This is not a joke. This is the perfect opportunity for a brand-new writer to break into this genre. (Our typical advance for a first time writer in this genre is $4000 - $7000.)

      I would need complete manuscripts by October 2006. If you have never sold a full-length novel to a major publishing house before, you will need to have a complete ms. before we go to contract. [italics in original]

    Send to: Anna Louise Genoese, Editor, Tor Romance, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

    Check that webpage for links for more specific submission information.

Goosing the Midlist

    Everybody talks about the dying midlist, and now HarperCollins and William Morrow are trying to do something about it, according to the Bits'n'Pieces column in the September 2005 NINK. They lowered the cover price on midlist novels by four authors to $16.95, resulting in almost twice the number of orders for the author's previous book. The books are mostly from the middle of series, so the hope is that the full series will sell better. Results weren't in, but the publishers were hoping for sell-through to match the pre-orders, in which case they would try their luck again with this idea.

Too Good Not to Be Shared

    Western author Bill Brooks received the following email from a soldier, and shared it in the February 2006 issue of Roundup Magazine. I've shortened the email slightly:

      I am a Personal Protection Specialist and work PSD details in Iraq. I tell you this because on 20 Oct 2005 a copy of your book "Leaving Cheyenne" played a role in preventing serious injury to me or perhaps my early demise.

      Your book deflected a .762 round that was intended to kill me.

      Once home in December if you would do me the honor of autographing my copy (with the bullet hole through it of course) I would greatly appreciate it.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree, 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

Novelists, Inc., NINK, P.O. Box 1166, Mission, KS 66222-0166, www.ninc.com/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 16000 Stuebner Airline Dr., Suite 140, Spring, TX 77379, www.rwanational.org

Western Writers of America, Roundup Magazine, 1012 Fair Street, Franklin, TN 37064-2718, www.westernwriters.org

Copyright 2006 by Steve Carper

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