Archive for October, 2010

Cowry shells, goats, and geographic restrictions

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

There’s a massive thread of painful death over at Dear Author about the geographic restriction problem.

Full disclosure: I sold Harlequin world rights, including translation rights, for my books, and they have done a phenomenal job of getting my book out there–and if you want to get an idea of how awesome take a look at this, which isn’t even a complete list–but even though I have been extraordinarily lucky in having a publisher that exercises the rights I’ve granted them, there are geographic delays involved and different pricing levels in different countries, and I’ve heard from readers that this is frustrating.

For those who don’t know, the geographic restriction problem is this: Historically, authors sold rights to territories. You would sell your U.S. publisher rights to publish your book in the United States, a U.K. publisher rights to publish in the U.K., and so forth.

In a world of print books, this just makes sense. It would make no sense to sell a US publisher both US and UK rights, because the US publisher would have no way to publish the book in the UK: no sales force to get the book into bookstores, no warehouse to store books when sent over to make sure they arrived on time, and so forth.

The end result, of course, is that some books would not be published in some territories. English-speakers who happened to live in Thailand would have to resort to expensive importing schemes. But the number of such sales lost would have been small, not sufficient to justify producing a book in the country of choice, and so publishers and authors shrugged–you can’t win every battle.

Enter e-books, and this stops making economic sense. In a world of e-books, you don’t want to slice things up by territory. You want to slice them up by language, so that the book is available in English, everywhere, at the same time, at the same price.

The problem is that we’re still locked in to the old system. Why did cowry shells work, in some parts of the world, as currency? Because people accepted them. And what would someone do if you tried to hand them some useless bits of paper in exchange? Well, they wouldn’t think much of it. And, in fact, if everyone else used cowry shells, you can’t walk in and say, “Hi, everyone, I’d like to buy your goats, and here are these AWESOME things called dollars.”

This is true even though paper currency is more efficient and easier to transport and less subject to being crushed when a goat steps on it.

Some of this problem is caused by authors. Authors want to maximize the amount of money we get, and so authors may only sell a publisher US rights. If the publisher sold the book to someone outside the US, they’d be in violation of their contract, and they don’t want to do that.

Some of this problem is caused by publishers. Some authors do sell publishers rights to world English–and the publisher won’t sell the book outside the US territory, because they know that (1) they can only effectively use the rights in the US (and by “effectively” I mean “both print and digital”); and (2) if they want to get the most money for what they’ve purchased, they want to resell those rights to a publisher in another territory; but (3) they will not be able to resell the rights to a territory if they do not give that other publisher exclusive rights in that territory. So a publisher with world English rights may choose not to release a book worldwide because it believes it will make more money if they try to get someone else to release it in another part of the world.

It’s even worse than I’ve made it out to be because the global consolidation of what used to be national publishers has locked publishers into the territorial divide by contract.

I could not insist in my next contract that Harlequin release the digital version of my book for a worldwide audience simultaneously. Or, at least, I could insist on it–but Harlequin almost certainly could not comply with my demand, even if they really, really wanted to.

I’m interpolating from available facts, but this is my basic idea of how Harlequin works. I sell world rights to everything to Harlequin S.A., a Swiss corporation. Harlequin S.A. then licenses my book to the various foreign arms of Harlequin, one of which is Harlequin Enterprises, Limited, a Canadian corporation–who produces the US edition. I am guessing that these foreign arms are in fact separate corporate entities, and that they are held together in the complex web of “Harlequin, Mills & Boon” by contracts that dictate territorial scope.

If Harlequin Enterprises, Limited, decided that it wanted to release e-books worldwide, it would probably be in violation of contracts it has with Mills and Boon over in the UK as well as Mills and Boon Australia. I’m guessing, but I suspect that there are very firm anti-poaching rules written into these agreements.

I suspect the same thing is true with the US and UK branches of Simon and Schuster, and HarperCollins and so on and so on.

At this point, if you sell your books to a major New York publisher, one that has foreign arms, they are probably bound to respect some foreign publisher’s territory by contract. And so even if you sell your publisher the right to release your book everywhere, simultaneously–they won’t exercise that right, and they probably cannot do so without breaking contracts already in place.

Like I said, this is interpolation: I have not, in fact, ever seen a contract between Mills and Boon and Harlequin Limited or HarperCollins Australia and HarperCollins US, but I can infer their existence on the basis of behavior.

In other words: Even if I wanted to sell something other than cowry shells, my publisher has probably entered into contracts that bind them to sell in units of cowry shells.

This is lock-in: a situation that may not be best for anyone today, but because of the way things arose historically, we’re stuck. At least for now. At some point in the future, when global e-books take off more than they have done now, the contracts between sister arms of publishers are going to start to disintegrate.

None of this problem is caused by readers, and they’re the ones who get stuck in the middle and slapped around and told they can’t buy books they want to buy.

This is definitely a failure. It encourages piracy. It leads to lost sales. It means that people who want to read books can’t. All of those things make me sad.

But I can’t fix this by making demands in my contract. My agent can’t fix this by making demands in my next contract.

I could fix this if I published with an epublisher that releases worldwide. I haven’t done that because I know that I will reach more readers if my books are in print.

And that is my decision–and I do take the responsibility and the blame for it, because it does leave some people out–but I know that I would get as much frustrated e-mail from readers who couldn’t find my book in Barnes and Noble and the grocery store as I would from readers in Thailand.

Giveaway: Pull by B.A. Binns

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Brief Edit: Okay, we’re really up now!

Pull by B.A. Binns is one of the most powerful Y.A. books I’ve read all year.

David, the protagonist (you notice I don’t include his last name), is dealing with a lot for a kid in his senior year of high school. You see, a few months ago, his dad murdered his mother. His father’s in jail, and David himself, as the eldest in the family, has gotten the job of keeping his family together. Without the money he makes from an after school construction job, his sisters and he would have been split up around the globe, sent to distant relatives, many of whom don’t really seem to care about the family.

So David finds himself the man of his family, when he’s not even a man himself. And David does not know how to deal with what has happened to him. He changes his last name. In part, so that people at his new school (one that’s in a poor part of town, instead of the wealthier area where his parents used to live) don’t recognize either his skill at basketball or his father’s name. But in larger part, he doesn’t want to keep his father’s last name–just as he doesn’t want to visit his father in jail, doesn’t even call him “father” anymore.

But David’s suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the murder. And he’s struggling from a lot of things that feel absolutely real: He doesn’t want to go to college, doesn’t enjoy school, and does like girls–and as much as he likes them, he also blames them for the way they make him feel.

David is never a comfortable character, and he won’t make you feel comfortable (especially if you, like me, wince at the thought of someone not getting an education). And that, I think is what makes this book so raw and powerful. It is simply too easy to believe that David is real. To buy into what is a complex mix of teenage anger and angst and hope and self-hatred and arrogance all at once–and even though those things sound contradictory, when David lets you know how it is, in his short, terse, no-nonsense style, it’s real.

His character is so strong, so powerful, that even through (especially through) his terse denials, you can feel so much. I got more raw emotion from one of David’s curt “I don’t cares,” delivered at the right time than I do from most books.

And just to give you a taste of what he’s like, this from the first few pages of the book, after David has just had a traumatic flashback in the middle of gym class when the sound of the basketball hitting the court reminds him of a gunshot wound:

The gym teacher’s whistle sounds, the shriek knifing through my ears. He runs over from the sidelines where he’s been talking with another man while the inept group of students practiced passing the ball. His pale face holds wide, worried gray eyes. You’d think he’d never seen a guy downed by a basketball before. Probably hasn’t been teaching in the inner city very long. Probably still has ideals and intends to do some good or something.

Probably needs to get the hell out of my space.

And that’s David for you.

Like I said, this is not a comfortable book. But the day I got it, I was up until 1 AM reading, even though I had a 6 AM flight the next morning, and I got up half an hour early just so I could finish.

This book is seriously, utterly, powerfully compelling. And so I’m giving away a copy to one random commenter.

Foreign editions!

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Happy day!

This morning was taken over by distraction with shiny things. How shiny? Well, let’s try this on for shininess!

First, it’s foreign covers for various anthologies that will have “This Wicked Gift” in them, all coming out in the next week or so:

From left to right: UK, Japan, Germany, Australia!

I’m not sure which cover I like best, although it is seriously cool to see my name in Japanese: コートニー・ミラン

The Japanese title is “Christmas of Love” (according to Google Translate), and the German title means “Christmas Magic” (according to me). The UK/Australian versions look like slightly altered versions of the North American version, but with higher contrast. I’ve already seen one of the UK versions up close and personal, and it’s very pretty in person. My favorite title is definitely the German one–“Christmas Magic”–because I like the little tingle that you get when you think about that.

And then there are other editions of Proof by Seduction, many of which will look at least somewhat familiar:

From left to right: Estonian, Thorndike large print, Italian, German, Australian!

The Estonian title translates directly as “Proof by Seduction.” Le Ragioni del Cuore is “The Reasons of the Heart,” and Eine hinreißende Schwindlerin means something like “A Beautiful Liar.” Or maybe “A Gorgeous Con-Artist.”Aren’t they pretty? I don’t even have the slightest clue how to pronounce Tõestus Võrgutamise Abil. And it’s totally, utterly bizarre to look at these covers and to think, “Huh. I wrote that. And I have no idea what it says.” The Thorndike Press version is actually domestic–it’s a large print edition, for libraries, and as I am sure you can all see, they toned down the cover just a tad for the demographic that tends to read large print books.

Soon, we should be seeing versions in Dutch and Polish, and eventually French and who knows what else–and hey, in a few months, we’ll see Trial‘s first overseas appearance (Australia–they’re fast at getting books out!).

Shiny! Pretty! Ooooh.

Thank you

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

There were times when I was writing Trial by Desire when I really didn’t know why I was doing it. It was a really, really hard book to write. There were parts that felt like sending little splinters of bamboo up my fingernails. When I finished, I told Mr. Milan that if I ever had to write a book like that again, I was going to quit writing altogether because it just wasn’t worth it.

For the most part, I don’t comment on reviews, or on reader discussions. But Google Alerts sends me snippets…. And so this blog post is for everyone who has talked about this book online, or e-mailed me, or tweeted someone that they had to read this book… I just want to say thank you.

There were definitely times when it felt like this book was not worth the agony of writing it.

I don’t feel like that now.

This Wicked Gift

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Want to read This Wicked Gift, my RITA-finaling novella, but haven’t yet?

40% of it is available on Google Books right now. (Initially I thought it was more, but I somehow missed that it skipped nearly the last half of the book.)

Yes, you’ll be missing most of the first half of the novella, including a handful of pages taken at random from bits and pieces throughout which really, really drives me nuts–did they have to take out the page that has the moment of penetration, for instance? Or the bit where they delete the page that tells you what it is Lavinia lost, that she needs found?

So think of it as an extended excerpt, annoyingly missing vital pages. If you really want those pages (and you know you do) you can get the full book for $3.89 for Kindle or Nook.

Romance:Porn as Rice:Chocolate

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

We’ve seen a handful of rehashes over the last few days of the age-old question of whether romance is porn, and if you object to the label, why you are objecting to it. There was an article in Slate recently. Smart Bitch Sarah posted a letter today in which a boyfriend asks a girlfriend to stop reading romances because he thinks they are porn.

Every so often, someone pipes up with this: “Why are you getting all annoyed when people say romance is porn? There’s nothing inherently bad about pornography. So who cares?”

Assuming that the pornography in question is made in a consensual, nonexploitative manner, I have nothing against it. And yet I do bristle when people say that romance is porn. Part of the reason is a type-classification argument. For instance, I love dogs, but if someone insisted that I was one, I would be offended. Even though I have nothing against dogs. Dogs are great; I just happen not to be one.

But mostly the romance=pornography thing bothers me because it implies that only a small level of romance is healthy in the intellectual diet.

If someone told me he spent 20 hours a week reading porn, I would think: “Whoa. Don’t you… like… get chafed? Down there?” I have nothing against porn. But porn is like chocolate: a wonderful snack; you can argue about the health benefits for an occasional piece; but everyone agrees that it should not be a staple of your diet, no matter how much you like it.

Romance, in my view, is not the chocolate of the intellectual buffet. I see it as more like rice. It’s filling. It’s chewy. Some cultures eat it with every meal. Others eat it sparingly. Some books are like risotto and others are like gallo pinto. There’s fried rice. There’s chicken-and-rice soup. There’s bi bim bap and nasi goreng and sushi… and can you tell it is almost lunch time for me? I am making myself hungry. (And yes, the line can be blurry: there are some books that are chocolate rice pudding–but that doesn’t mean that everything with rice in it is dessert.)

Plus, there’s brown rice and white rice and arborio rice and jasmine rice and wild rice… lotsa kinds of rice out there. And we haven’t even gotten to grains like quinoa, or things that act a lot like rice, but aren’t at all, like couscous.

Some people don’t like rice, because they don’t like the way their body reacts to the carbs. And that is okay. But if someone told me they ate rice at every meal, or that rice formed a regular part of their diet, I wouldn’t think, “yeah, maybe you should branch out.” It’s quite possible for a healthy diet to include a good amount of rice.

Most romance readers out there browse a varied diet. They read historical fiction (not just historical romance). Science fiction. Fantasy. Mystery. Nonfiction. The news. Drama. Memoir. Short stories. Poetry. They demand more than boy meets girl of their romances, too–they don’t just want a scoop of white rice on a plate. Romance novels touch on family relations, wars, spies, spousal abuse, alien abductions, mystery, suspense, gay rights, race relations, murder… you name it, it’s in a romance novel.

That’s why I firmly believe that a healthy reading diet can contain a large proportion of romance novels. I don’t think the same is true of pornography.

All caught up!

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

This post violates one of the unspoken rules of authordom: in it, I imply that my books are not like babies and I do not love them all equally. Prepare to be shocked.

One of the reasons I’m excited about the release of Trial by Desire is probably not obvious on the face of it.

You see, the publication order of my books has not been the same as the order in which I wrote them. I wrote Proof by Seduction first, found an agent and an editor and sold the book, and had started work on Trial by Desire when my editor asked me if I’d like to write a novella. So I wrote “This Wicked Gift” a full year after I’d written Proof by Seduction, and well after I’d conceived the idea for Trial.

For a young writer (and I am young as a writer!), a year is a really long time. There are skills you learn by doing, things that you learn from writing books that you can’t learn any other way. I can definitely tell that I’ve grown as a writer. I can point to some things in Proof and know that I would handle them differently now. This is not to say that I think it’s a bad book. But I do think I’m a better writer since I wrote my first book, and I think you can tell by looking at the novella that came out before my first book.

In any event, I’ve finally caught up to myself. After Trial, my books are finally going to be coming out in the order in which I wrote them. I hope that in the years to come I continue to grow as a writer. And what I hope that means for you is that the best is yet to come.

But speaking of future books: I’ve posted the first scene from my January 25, 2011 release, Unveiled. No relation to Trial by Desire or Proof by Seduction.

Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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