Monthly Archives: October 2012

Are Editors Necessary? Part 1

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the decline of editing. These are fighting words.

The problem with evaluating this allegation is that everything editors do today is invidiously compared to the accomplishments of that quintessential master, Maxwell Perkins. Perkins practiced his art at the offices of Charles Scribner’s Sons from 1914 until late in the 1940s and midwifed the masterpieces of such immortals as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe. “Where are today’s Maxwell Perkinses?” is the plaintive cry of authors who discover horrifying grammatical, syntactical, factual, and typographical errors in their freshly minted books, or, worse, have them gleefully pointed out by friends and critics. Every such erratum is a rebuke to the hallowed memory of that figure who has been depicted as gracious, patient, erudite, nurturing, precise, demanding, polite, and modest, a man whose love of authors was exceeded only by his love of good and well-made books. Let’s assume that he truly did possess all of the virtues ascribed to him, and more if you wish. I have no desire to desecrate either his memory or his achievements.

I just don’t happen to think that “Where are today’s Maxwell Perkinses?” is a very good question. It oversimplifies editing both then and now, and fails to take into account the fact that today’s editors simply don’t perform the same tasks that their forebears did. I know a number of great editors working today, but they’re great in many significantly different ways from the great editors of yesteryear.


Are Editors Necessary? Part 2

(Continued from Are Editors Necessary? Part 1)

The paternalistic treatment of authors by editors in earlier times, however, produced its own set of inequities, for publishers took advantage of many authors who were too ignorant, shy, or well-bred to demand good terms of their editors. Knowing that most authors write for love, publishers tended to assume that they didn’t care about writing for money.

Resentment toward publishers over their exploitation of authors created the conditions for the rise to power of literary agents, and though new authors today are still at a disadvantage, the balance eventually shifts when they engage agents and become more successful. Good agents often insist on a large measure of control over the author-editor relationship, holding authors at arm’s length from their editors to protect them from being taken advantage of. And what has happened in the four or five decades since this transformation occurred is that the agents have begun to take over the role formerly played by editors.

Today’s agents nurture authors, work closely with them in the development of their work, perform a great many editorial tasks, and lend strong emotional and psychological support. And, perhaps most important of all, in a turbulent world of publishing mergers and takeovers and editorial musical chairs, agents have become the islands of stability and reliability that were once the province of editors. So, if the importance of editors in this respect has diminished, the loss has not necessarily affected authors for the worse.


Writing John Carpenter’s “Halloween” Novelization

I happen to have more than a passing acquaintance with Halloween because I was commissioned by Bantam Books to write the paperback tie-in of John Carpenter’s blockbuster movie Halloween under the pen-name of “Curtis Richards.” It was a pretty good novel if I do say so myself. Out of curiosity I checked it out on and was gratified to read that one reviewer described it as, “A near classic of its kind.” (Near? Why just near?) If you’re interested in learning how I dealt with the challenge, and the fascinating process of movie, television and game novelizations, read my post called Media Tie-ins – How Do They Work? Here’s an excerpt

“One of the great things about movies is that they move so fast, you don’t have time to think about logic. Novels are a more reflective medium, however; at any time you can put a book down and think about what you’ve read. And it worried me, for instance, that my readers would put my book down and wonder how the hell someone who’d been institutionalized since he was five would know how to drive a car. So I had to concoct a whole chapter describing the fellow’s stay in the asylum (which was okay, since I needed the five thousand words anyway) and showing that because he’d been a model inmate and trusty, he’d been taught to drive a truck and use it to run errands on the asylum grounds.”

Incidentally, I hold an orange belt in pumpkin carving, and above is an example. In the dark you can’t see the bloodstain where my filleting knife penetrated the palm of my left hand.
Richard Curtis
Movies Into Books may be found in a collection of columns by Richard Curtis entitled Mastering the Business of Writing by Richard Curtis

Why You Need to Wish Thriller Author Kovacs Good Luck

“I’m about to leave on a deployment to Central Asia as a security contractor, so wish me luck,” says Curtis Agency author Ed Kovacs in a Publishers Weekly interview tied to publication of his “Cliff St. James” thriller Good Junk. If Kovacs does what we think he does, we definitely wish him luck and so should you.

This second novel in the St. Martins Press series just received a starred and boxed review, a very rare double honor accorded to few books by the publishing industry’s trade magazine.*

Good Junk
, set in New Orleans like its predecessor Storm Damage, is about the murder of a US government “black projects” engineer.  How Kovacs happens to know so much about black projects he isn’t saying, but readers will be glad to see how compellingly he applies his experience to writing thrillers.

Read the full interview here.

Richard Curtis

*Some browsers may not pick up the box but take our word for it, it’s in the print magazine.


How Much Does It Cost You to Produce an E-Book? Part 2

This is the second and concluding installment of an article about how publishers arrive at the prices of ebooks. It’s written in response to consumer criticisms that “Publishers are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit,” as one reporter phrased it.

In the first installment of this article we took you through the processes that at least one publisher – my own, E-Reads – performs to convert a previously published book into an e-book distributed in all formats, plus a print on demand paperback. We calculated what it would cost an individual to replicate those processes, including hard costs, labor and overhead. We concluded it would take about 31 hours for a person whose time is worth $40.00 an hour (adjust that number if your time is worth more or less).

Adding some incidental charges, we figured the total cost for you to convert a previously published book to an e-book and print on demand paperback was $1,600.00, not counting the cost of marketing, advertising or publicity. How should you price your book to recover that investment and make a profit to boot? And how many copies must you sell to hit that number?

E-book retailers take commissions that roughly range between 30% and 50% of the list price. For sake of argument let’s say the average discount is 40%, meaning 60% of the list price will be paid to you. If you charge $.99 you’ll have to sell over 2600 units just to break even on that $1600 investment. In order to make a 25% profit, you have to sell another 650 copies. (And by the way, to make $2.00 per copy on the sale of your print on demand book you’ll have to price it at $16.00.)

If you don’t think you’ll be able to sell 2600 copies of your $.99 e-book, try charging $2.99. You will then have to sell only 900 units to break even. Add 225 units to make a 25% profit. Think you will sell that many?

If you don’t think so, raise your price again. If you raise it to $6.99 you’ll make a 25% profit on less than 500 sales. But you may also incur the wrath of consumers who think you “are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit.”

Of course, if you can’t or don’t want to do this yourself you may want to hire an outside party do do it. Let’s call that party a publisher, a publisher whose labor costs and overhead are considerably more than $40.00 per hour. More like several hundred. A publisher that must make a profit in order to stay in business. Since it costs a publisher more to produce a book than it costs an individual author, you will realize that if you have to sell, say, 2000 units of your book to make a profit, your publisher will have to sell two or three times that many – or raise the list price to double or triple yours.

Still think publishers are making a killing?

If this commonly held belief were mere ignorance we’d continue biting our tongues. But it is a pernicious supposition that has been responsible for driving down fair profit margins for authors and publishers and for sending consumers to pirate sites in protest against what they consider to be overpriced e-books.

We understand that E-Reads’ business model – the reprinting of previously published books – is atypical for authors who simply want to upload their books down and dirty. There are many options for them to do so at a fraction of the costs that E-Reads incurs.

But hopefully, some consumers who complain about e-book prices will take a more benign view of the challenges confronting publishers.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World under the title Are Publishers Making a Killing on E-Books? Part 2


How Much Does It Cost You to Produce an E-Book? Part 1

In a post last spring DBW’s Jeremy Greenfield wrote,”Publishers are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit. At least, that’s what many consumers think.” I’ve been brooding about it since then and thought it might be helpful to give those consumers some insights into how publishers arrive at their prices.

Few subjects have elicited as much wild conjecture as the prices of e-books. Reading rabid allegations of price-gouging, one has to wonder what these critics know about manufacturing costs that we in the e-book industry don’t. Following the proverb Don’t judge another until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, it might be educational for you to imagine what it would cost you to duplicate the processes that at least one publisher – my own, E-Reads – performs to get a book into the marketplace from raw state to finished product.

E-Reads is among the oldest independent e-book publishers. From its founding our principle has been to split all net receipts with authors on a 50-50 basis. Although we occasionally publish original books, our stock in trade is reprints of previously published ones, particularly genre fiction such as fantasy and science fiction, romance, and action-adventure thrillers. Unlike self-published authors for whom the publication process is generally fast and inexpensive, E-Reads’ production line is artisinal, calling on skills – many of them quite demanding – drawn as much from Old Publishing as from New.

All publishers  incur three fundamental types of expense: hard costs, labor and overhead. Many authors contemplating self-publication look at the hard costs but don’t always focus on the softer ones, namely the value of their time and the cost of living.

Let’s, therefore, start with this question: how much is your time worth?  If you earn, say, $60,000 a year, your time is worth a bit under $30.00 an hour for a forty-hour week. That is the cost of your labor for publishing your own e-book.  But you also have overhead expenses to meet such as rent or mortgage, utility bills, transportation, computer equipment, depreciation and countless other necessities and amenities. When publishers prepare a profit and loss analysis for books they contemplate publishing, they tack on to their hard expenses something like 30% or 35% as the cost of overhead, and you should too.  By adding $10 – around 30% of your $30.00 an hour – onto your labor cost,  your true hourly expense is more like $40.00 than $30.00. Obviously, you should adjust these numbers if your time is worth more or less than that.

The first task we perform to reissue a previously published book is to accurately reproduce the printed text as a digital file. Even if you possess the original text file, for publication purposes it’s useless. The text you turned in to your publisher was subsequently copyedited and proofread. You may want to key into your computer the changes that your publisher made to your original text file.  That will probably take you a minimum of a week – 40 hours. If your hourly cost is $40.00 that’s $1,600.00, a foolish expenditure when it is so much cheaper to have your printed edition scanned.

Scanners in effect take a digital photo of every page of your book and create a crude computer-readable text. I say “crude” because although good scanners are 99% accurate, a 1% error rate in a 300 page book amounts to as many as 900 errors. In any event, scanning costs vary widely from $50.00 a book to several hundred dollars.  Let’s say $150.00, plus, say, an hour packing up and delivering or sending your book to a professional scanning firm.

You will then need to proofread your digitized text. Reviewing and correcting should take about one or two minutes per page, or about 450 minutes for a typical novel that will end up at 300 printed pages.  That’s about eight hours.

Once you have a clean file in hand you’ll want to convert it to ePub, the universal language of e-book publishing. The conversion software is a free download, but the time to convert your text and make sure it’s properly formatted for various retailers may take three or four hours. Say four.

You’ll have to make a cover.  If you choose to buy or commission commercial art the sky’s the limit. We use, and adapt, stock art, also known as clip art. We subscribe to a stock art service to guarantee that the rights to the images we use have been cleared. To the cost of clip art fees or subscription add the value of your time to produce the cover and write jacket copy (and don’t forget the bar code!).  This will all take two hours if you’re lucky. Better allow for three.

You’ll need to furnish a variety of metadata to retailers or they won’t accept your upload. That includes list price, territory, ISBN number, BISAC code, foreign currency conversion, sample chapter, and many other items. For a taste of what you’re getting into, you might want to read Mastering the Mysteries of Metadata first. But allow one or two full days. For the sake of argument we’ll split the difference at 12 hours.

If you want your book printed on paper you can do it cheaply enough through a variety of commercial processes. How good the book will look – many have special formatting issues – is hard to say. Because we are a professional publisher and our POD titles are sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers, we take great pains. It may take a day or two of special formatting for print on demand, for the editorial processes are quite demanding. If you want to adhere to our standards, let’s say one eight-hour day.

Assuming you’ve performed these tasks to perfection you will want to upload the book to various e-book retailers and a print publisher as well. E-Reads’ uploads are managed by Ingram’s excellent CoreSource, but as you’re only uploading one or two books it makes no sense to subscribe to such services. You can distribute via Bookbaby for $99.00, but if you prefer do-it-yourself uploading to all significant retailers it will take several hours of trial and error, for retailers often send you error messages and you will need hours more to troubleshoot and re-upload.  Three hours sounds about right.

There are other functions but these are typical ones.  Tallying up the hours you’ve spent we get 31. At $40.00 per hour that’s a cost of $1,360.00, plus several hundred dollars in hard costs.  Let’s round it off at $1,600.00 to get your previously published book back in print in all formats. That doesn’t include a penny for marketing and publicity.

In the next installment of this posting we’ll set some price points for your book and figure out how many copies you have to sell to make your money back plus a profit.

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published on Digital Book World as Are Publishers Making a Killing on E-Books? Part 1



Is It a Crime to Write Rave Reviews for Your Own Book?

Is it a crime to post a rave review of your own book or a hostile one of someone else’s? If it isn’t, many people think it should be. Though you may not agree, we suggest you think twice before posting that encomium to your just-published book and hiding behind a pseudonym. It may actually be illegal.

Barb Darrow, writing in, reports that “Three years ago, the FTC found that companies paying for rave reviews without disclosing that the reviewer was compensated constitutes deceptive advertising and can be prosecuted. Gartner thinks that means companies will take a proactive role policing reviews that defame their products and services and pressure online sites to remove them. That will give rise to ‘reputation defense’ companies specializing in such practices.”

The practice is widespread, and our recent posting about the soaring rate of fake Amazon reviews provoked a tempest of indignation. (See Has Anybody Seen an Honest Reviewer?). But until now it was hard to quantify the extent of the problem.  Gartner, Inc., the world’s leading technological research firm, has a pretty good idea, predicting that in two or three years, between 10 and 15% of all online reviews will be spurious and self-serving notices.

We’re actually surprised it’s so low, given the conjecture made by Education Portal, that somewhere between 75 and 98% of all college students cheat. Gartner thinks the phony review trend is just beginning to rise, so maybe we will see parity with college cheating a few years down the road.

Gartner attributes what might be called Reviewgate to enormous corporate and social media pressures. A senior analyst notes: “With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages … Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”

Because fake reviews make it impossible for consumers to make informed choices, most right-thinking people abhor the practice.  But when it comes to punishing the practitioners we lapse into fatalism.  What can we do, that’s way of the world, right? But if it’s against the law, sooner or later there will be a test case. Bring it on!

Details in Gartner predicts raft of fake online reviews by 2014

Richard Curtis

This blog post was originally published in Digital Book World as Can You Go to Jail for Writing a Fake Review?


Rare Honor Accorded to New Kovacs Thriller

Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly are rare, but boxed and starred reviews are even rarer.  So, we were thrilled to see a boxed and starred review of Good Junk by Richard Curtis Agency client Ed Kovacs (you may not be able to see the box on some screens but take our word for it, it’s there!).  Good Junk is the second thriller featuring private investigator (and martial arts expert) Cliff St. James published by St. Martins’ Minotaur thriller line. The first novel is Storm Damage. A third novel is on the way.

The series is set in New Orleans, and the books are lean, mean and bullet-paced. Here’s the kicker line in the PW review: “St. James may fit the familiar wiseass detective mold, but powerful prose that evokes a city still struggling to recover its infrastructure and identity elevates this well beyond most other contemporary PI novels.”