The Amazon-Hachette Dispute Rages On With No Clear End in Sight

Hachette versus Amazon - peoplewhowriteBack in May, Amazon began delaying and, soon thereafter, “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette after a breakdown in negotiations over ebook prices. Amazon released a statement that insisted it is not to blame for the standoff, but it was reportedly recommending other books to customers seeking specific Hachette titles. This understandably raised the ire of Hachette authors.

A month after the dispute was publicized, comedian Stephen Colbert, whose book America Again was released by Hachette, encouraged viewers of his popular news comedy show to bypass Amazon for Portland bookseller Powells.com. Now authors based in America and Germany are uniting separately to tell readers Amazon may be the place to score cheap books that are delivered quickly, but it’s also manipulating them.

Via AuthorsUnited.net, 900 American writers asserted that Amazon is deliberately “inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery… contradicting its own written promise to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company‘.” Meanwhile, German-language authors bearing the brunt of a brawl between Amazon and German publisher Bonnier wrote their own letter saying: “Amazon’s customers have, until now, had the impression that these lists are not manipulated and they could trust Amazon,” clarifying “Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts.”

At ReadersUnited.com, Amazon positioned the fight as one against readers, that is ultimately slowing revenue for authors, publishers, and Amazon. In its open letter to the industry, the Amazon Books Team explains:

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

As it stands, the stalemate is having the same effect as the higher pricing, according to Amazon’s logic.

For writers, this battle highlights the problematic nature of reduced competition in the distribution of books. With Borders gone, Barnes and Noble flailing, and Amazon the top of mind choice for most readers, it seem writers need to take more ownership of the order fulfillment process. If we don’t, we may find ourselves caught between the publishers and Powells.com or some other unforeseen, to-be-invented force that makes it convenient and cheap for customers to get the stories they want. Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson put it best in a piece recently published on Publishers Weekly about the easy vilification of Amazon: at the end of the day, it’s “a question of who’s being the biggest bully at the moment.”

Rest in Peace, James Foley

Journalist James Foley - peoplewhowrite

Journalist James Foley was reportedly beheaded by members of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Foley, who had been captured once before by soldiers in Libya and later released, said of the ordeal, “I believe that front line journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and firsthand experience, we can’t really tell the world how bad it might be.”

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Stephanie Nikolopoulos

Stephanie Nikolopoulos_Burning Furiously Beautiful_peoplewhowrite

Stephanie Nikolopoulos wrote Burning Furiously Beautiful with Paul Maher, Jr. She is currently at work on her memoir.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
The title I used for my memoir about growing up Greek American when it was in thesis form at The New School was The Language of Replanted Flowers. When I was a little girl, I was quiet and sensitive, and my father said I was “a delicate flower.” He had grown up farming on the mainland of Greece, and even when he moved to the suburbs of New Jersey, where there were vast supermarkets and gourmet grocery stores, he spent almost every weekend laboring to grow fruits and vegetables in our backyard. Gardening was practical for him, but sometimes he would present me with roses that grew along the fence. When he decided to move back to Greece, uprooting our family, the thing I remember most about the days leading up to it was how worried he was about one of his plants. My story is about thriving where you’re planted and about blossoming into the person you’re meant to be.

My uncle also suggested My Imported Family, which I think is quite clever and would sell better than my title!

What is the greatest story ever told?
The greatest story ever told is the one that encourages you, the one where you find community in the words on the page so that you feel a little less alone and a little more you. It’s the story that gives you Hope. It’s the story that moves you, inspires you, changes you, motivates you to action. It’s the story that keeps revealing itself time after time.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Anne Shirley from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. She’s passionate, bold, and impetuous yet sensitive, generous, and loving, touching the lives of everyone she meets. She is intelligent and imaginative. She recites Tennyson while lying in the bottom of a boat and accidentally gets her kindred spirit, Diana, drunk on current wine. She doesn’t give in easily to the smug Gilbert Blythe, instead rivaling him academically.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
I once invited Donald Miller, who wrote the bestseller Blue Like Jazz, to meet up when his book tour came through New York—but he turned me down! I’m sure he gets invitations all the time and that mine sounded just as fangirl-ish as the rest, but the reason I had wanted to meet him was because his writing was really influential on my own work, not only from a literary standpoint but also practically. He founded a website called Burnside Writers Collective, for which his friends Jordan Green was Editor-in-Chief and Penny Carothers was Social Justice Editor, and for which I eventually became the Visual Arts Editor. Over the years, I got to meet so many of the talented editors and writers who worked for Burnside — Jordan and Penny and also Amy Deal, Chad Gibbs, Kim Gottschild, Susan E. Isaacs, J. Scott McElroy, Diane Nienhuis, John Pattison, Larry Shallenberger, and Betsy Zabel. We’ve talked over meals and coffee and beer, and it’s just felt so natural, like being with family.

I started reading the Beat Generation writers when I was in high school, and one of the aspects that captivated me was that they were friends sharing their work with one another, suggesting edits and promoting each other, and living life together. Years later, with Burnside Writers Collective, I found that. I found this amazing group of writers who inspired me and encouraged me. There are so many other people who wrote for Burnside that I never met in person, but I still feel like I know them. And I’m so grateful for that community. Oh, and I did end up meeting Donald Miller in person when Susan brought me backstage before a reading she did when she was on tour with him for her book Angry Conversations with God, and I could see the light bulb going off over his head that I was the same person who’d emailed him and now had somehow finagled my way backstage!

What is your favorite word right now?
My favorite word is “galaktoboureko.” It sounds like a dessert from another galaxy!

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Every time I see the word “comely,” I think it means the exact opposite of its definition. In my mind it’s synonymous with “homely.”

How many words have you written today?
I never keep track, but definitely not enough!

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Oh, I love this question! I always carry a journal when I travel, and some of my most exhilarating writing experiences have been on the road. I remember reading my bible and writing as the sun set while I looked out at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I thought it was the most romantic existence ever until I realized the birds I thought were flying overhead were actually bats!

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Even though I’m an editor by trade, I hate editing my own work.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I love that writing permits being quiet. It’s a wonderful feeling to slow down and ruminate. I’m always amazed that when I come to the page I so often have no idea what I’m going to write or think I’m going to write one thing only to discover my writing takes me somewhere completely unexpected and amazing.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
I think the stereotype that writers are selfish holds some truth. You have to be a bit selfish as a writer if you want to produce quality work. Writing demands a lot of time — time to write, time to research, time to edit, time to read, time to attend readings, time to pitch, time to do social media; time that other people spend with loved ones or, you know, sleep. But I think writers are also incredibly generous, giving feedback on each other’s work, promoting and blurbing each other, helping non-writer friends write cover letters.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I get frustrated by the notion that writers write for the pure love of the craft and are happy being starving artists. Yes, of course, we write because we’re passionate about words and stories, but it is work. Difficult, time-sucking, soul-baring work. And we should be compensated accordingly.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I think that depends so much on what someone reads of mine. I once wrote an essay about how reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road encouraged me to be independent, and I was shocked when people commented that they thought I read the Beats because I was trying to be cool. Back when I had started reading the Beats, it never occurred to me that reading any specific author would make me appear “cool” because I didn’t think others thought reading itself was cool. To a large extent the Beats themselves were outcasts, and I related to that, to the feeling of being a little different, to not always fitting in. If anyone reads my personal essays and the memoir I’m working on, I think they’d see how very uncool I was. They’d read about how quiet, awkward, dorky, and rule following I am and might be shocked to discover how much I like the literature of the Beat Generation.

Stephanie Nikolopoulos is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the author, with Paul Maher Jr., of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” She also wrote the introduction to the reissue of the classics A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird and Hunting the Grisly by Theodore Roosevelt and contributed entries to Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. Her writing has appeared in BOMBlog, Brooklyn Rail, Burnside Writers Collective, Gothamist, The Literary Traveler, The Millions, Resource Magazine, and other publications. She earned her BA from Scripps College and her MFA from The New School. She blogs at www.StephanieNikolopoulos.com.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Torrey Maldonado

Torrey Maldonado, author of Secret Saturdays_PeopleWhoWrite

Torrey Maldonado‘s acclaimed debut Secret Saturdays was a 2011 ALA Quick Pick.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Boy Meets World.

What is the greatest story ever told?
I joked with a packed house, “My character is at risk of becoming a real-life Darth Vader.” Everyone laughed and got it. So STAR WARS…

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
An unimaginable number of jobs have been created by Disney. It all began with Mickey Mouse so he may be the greatest character invented.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Any schoolteacher-author-parent publishing two books-a-year. He/she has the Holy Grail. I’m “Tim Robbins-ing” out of Shawshank just to do one.

What is your favorite word right now?
Vacation. It’s when I write. Most of the year, I’m in my Clark Kent suit. On vacations, I show my “S” and do what I do. Write, feel super.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Balderdash. It means “nonsense”. It weirded out my 3rd grade teacher too. Instead of looking it up, she gave me detention for using it.

How many words have you written today?
The great news is I’m in Disney World and haven’t written a word today. The bad news is my writer’s brain is “GUILTing” me for that.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Hot spot to write = spot with hot music. [My characters] Sean’s and Justin’s playlist, that I list in Secret Saturdays, rocketed me through writing the book.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
That I can’t wave wands and things happen. Like pen a book a week. Or reply to folks’ asking my first be a film with a “POOF” and SO IT IS!

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I loved visiting a school of 2,000 youth plus parents who read and loved my book. Note to self: “Try taking a selfie with them next time.”

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Each writer has their own process.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
If your book hooks readers like Hunger Games and Harry Potter, yours will be BIG. Critics say mine and some of my friends’ do but…

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
My writing is what I needed as a reluctant reader — fun reads with meaty issues to transform me.


Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” and best Middle Grade and Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Maldonado was recently honored as a top teacher by NYC’s schools Chancellor. His work builds boys into multidimensional males and youth into global, caring citizens. Before teaching, he trained schools to implement Conflict Resolution programs through the U.S.’s largest victim-services agency. Praised for its timeless feel, his acclaimed novel, Secret Saturdays, made states’ reading lists and is assigned alongside classics and in anti-bullying initiatives. His forthcoming works also are inspired by his and his students’ lives.

Sony Is Officially Out of the E-Reader Business

Sony has confirmed today that they will not be making another ebook reader. via the-digital-reader.com - peoplewhowrite

“Sony has confirmed today that they will not be making another ebook reader – not even for their sole remaining market in Japan.” – the-digital-reader.com

Sony’s decision not to produce another e-reader follows their February 2014 announcement that they were shuttering their e-bookshop. With the lion’s share of readers using Amazon Kindles and Barnes and Noble Nooks, and the iPad ranking highest among tablet users according to a PCMag.com survey, writers and publishers need to figure out how we can leverage the devices readers prefer in fresh ways. How can we deliver digital stories that go beyond the standard, expected page-to-digi transfer?

In 2011, bestselling author Victoria Christopher Murray introduced the A Chapter A Month Club which enabled readers to receive a new chapter of original writing by authors on a monthly basis. In 2013, Margaret Atwood released a serial novel via Byliner.com. Now that Amazon has launched its Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service even as similar services like Oyster and Scribd gain market share, a serial system of some sort could really engage readers. Interesting how this 3.0 platform is bringing back the storytelling delivery popular in the days of old school radio.

The 2014 Man Booker Longlist Announced

Longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize - peoplewhowrite

Longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize

The 2014 Man Booker Longlist is here. For the first time, the prize is open to any title written in English (rather than just English and Commonwealth Writers); a change that was received with some grumbling for fear that future judges would privilege North American sensibilities. The longlist features six Britons, four Americans, two Irish writers, and one Australian:

Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries won the prestigious £50,000 prize last year.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Deji Olukotun

Nigerians in Space by Deji Olukotun_peoplewhowrite

Deji Olukotun is the Ford Foundation Freedom to Write Fellow at PEN American Center.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
The Astro Trampoline and Its Wondrous Series of Random Bounces

What is the greatest story ever told?
For 19,000 years, we told stories around fires. The math suggests that the greatest story ever told was heard around a fire and we will never know its author. However, when we eat s’mores we can get closer to that peak experience.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
I thought the character of Sky Hausmann from Alastair Reynold’s space opera novel Chasm City was fascinating and original. I also loved the narrator in South African author Kgebetli Moele’s Room 207. If you combined the two, with an algorithm, then that would be interesting. But I probably wouldn’t read it.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
I’ve met a number of writers I really admire through my work at PEN American Center: Francine Prose, Ron Chernow, Toni Morrison, Teju Cole, Zadie Smith, Ma Thida, Sherman Alexie, Jean-Euphele Milcé, Salman Rushdie, Eugene Luen Yang. I’ve been disappointed by all of them. They couldn’t fly faster than the speed of sound, or swing from buildings. I grew up thinking that all writers are superheroes.

In truth I tend not to enjoy meeting public figures, because I expect too much and I’m usually disappointed. My favorite thing is to meet someone impressive and only learn about their reputation afterwards. That way we can relate as individuals and not as fanboy and master. And if you told me afterwards that that person’s name was Haruki Murakami, I would be very happy.

What is your favorite word right now?
Cynical. It takes on a life of its own on the soccer field. British football commentators use it completely improperly, but they do it so often that it has established a new meaning: what we would call a professional foul in American sports, although the word has a more malicious connotation in their use of it.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Adumbrate, inchoate, and jejune. I think an alien from another planet inserted these words. She probably first landed in ancient Rome.

How many words have you written today?
A few thousand for my work at PEN. As for fiction, does this count?

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
I had my own office in the house where I rented a room in South Africa. I had a balcony with a view of Table Mountain, no internet, and great housemates to discuss books with every night. It was amazing.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
The lingering feeling that I should be finding an audience, and that I should convince that audience to pay me money.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
When the story and the typing fly along at the same pace, the conflict is humming, and I know I’m onto something good.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Most writers tend to have a deeply reflective side to them. They need that moment to be alone. It may be just one aspect of their personality, though, because they may feel equally at home at a karaoke bar singing Destiny’s Child. The stereotype that most writers sing Destiny’s Child poorly is unfortunately one hundred percent true.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That there is a certain type of writer. There are many types of writers who like to do many kinds of things.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
You should ask the NSA. Please keep the answer to yourself. (They’re watching us.)

Purchase Deji Olukotun’s Nigerians in Space today.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Maritza Rivera

Maritza Rivera_peoplewhowrite

Maritza Rivera is the author of A Mother’s War, and founder of Casa Mariposa Press and the Mariposa Poetry Retreat.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
A certain theme would run through my title selections: The Adventures of Butterfly Woman; The Butterfly Diaries; Mariposa Metamorphosis.

What is the greatest story ever told?
This is a very difficult question for me as a poet. Regardless its length, a poem can potentially be the greatest story ever told. I love “Parsley” by Rita Dove; “Alabanza” by Martin Espada; “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams; “Killing Mark” by Richard Blanco. I can think of so many poetry collections that tell stories: Pinecrest Rest Haven by Grace Cavalieri tells you about Mrs. and Mrs. P, who live in a nursing home and no longer remember that they are married. I heard Grace at a reading and the poems made me laugh and cry; Saudades by the late Jose “Joe” Gouveia is a great example of a life’s story; Hachiko Waits and October Mourning: Songs for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman, also life stories.

Since we all have stories to tell, I’m sure our greatest ones are yet to be told.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Hmm? I grew up in Puerto Rico so there are literary characters that most people have never heard of. I love the character of Juan Bobo (literally, Stupid John). He is a male version of Amelia Bedelia who takes everything very literal but politically pokes fun at the Jibaro (country bumpkin) in Puerto Rico. The stories are touching, bittersweet, and have a moral at the end. When I had young children, Madeline and Babar were my favorite characters and go to books for them. I loved their adventures.

But for me the greatest literary character is Don Quixote. I think there’s a connection among my favorite characters and poetry. Life is such an amazing and magical adventure!

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Definitely, Pablo Neruda! He would have dinner parties with other artists of the time and I love the idea of potlucks and salons. I’d have a long list of living writers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers I would invite.

What is your favorite word right now?
Phenomenal: I find the sound, its positivity, and spelling fun!

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Hispanic is used to refer to Spanish speaking people but the letter “h” is silent in Spanish. It sounds strange to hear the “h” pronounced. Latino, which includes more countries and languages, makes better sense to me. I have a poem about this.

How many words have you written today?
Well, if you include emails, texts, Facebook, responding to your questions, probably over a thousand by now and counting. ☺

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing writing experiences. First was the 2012 BID International Writers Fellowship in Bahia, Brazil where we met and then the 2013 Breadloaf Writers Conference in Sicily, Italy. Both of these exposed me to other writers and new environments, and the fact that I speak Spanish has come in handy in both places. I’m looking forward to writing in Paris some day.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Obsessing, I once spent a year trying to get the last line of a poem to work.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I love the magic. When you get an idea that you can’t wait to write about then lose all track of time while doing it. Then you create something that never existed before and others enjoy or relate to it. Garcia Lorca called it “duende”, I call it magic.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Writing is a difficult profession, especially writing poetry. Many authors who make it, and are able to earn a living at it sometimes forget how difficult it is to get your work recognized and published. One of the reasons I started a poetry series, a poetry retreat, and now a small press was to make the process less painful and help other poets get a good start, build confidence and create community.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I think people make the assumption that writers are unapproachable, self-absorbed, and that writing is a lonely art.

Writing is about connecting with people: on the page, on the stage, in person, and mostly across the table. Creating community among writers and across the arts is phenomenal.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
Most people don’t know that I’m the grandmother of two beautiful girls: Carmen and Sofia and have another grandchild due in November and that my children Maria Teresa and Antonio Roberto have been my biggest inspiration and motivation.

I also read tarot cards, used to own a ball python; and that besides poetry, I’m passionate about dancing.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Jakki Kerubo

Jakki Kerubo_peoplewhowrite

Jakki Kerubo, a recent graduate from New York University’s MFA program, is at work on her first novel.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Fasting, Feasting

What is the greatest story ever told?
The story of Adam and Eve. These characters “lived” thousands of years ago, yet the male/female dynamics in the human mating ritual remain relatively the same.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Allow me to nominate an author as a character: Niccolò Machiavelli. When an author’s work becomes a political/psychological thought that forms part of the dark triad, he deserves to be a character. Today, with the gift of social media, the manifestations of the dark triad are so apparent!

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Coffee with Milan Kundera in Prague. I’m dying to know if, and how, his thoughts on immigration and nostalgia have evolved post-Internet, social media, and the narrowing of geographical boundaries.

What is your favorite word right now?
Strategy.

How many words have you written today?
684

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
In my dreams (seriously), and usually after a night of music and dancing, or after a spiritual experience. Dreams hold so many secrets and ideas.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
My characters become family. When writing the first draft of my novel, I had a character who got murdered in Kenya for being gay. He had become like a son to me. I agonized over it on the D train to and from work for weeks. It was much easier to rewrite the draft without his character than to have him killed so brutally.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The power of the pen to influence lives, to entertain, to discover.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Writers can drink a lot for different reasons; but it’s not true that all writers are alcoholics who drink two gins before lunch.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
Writing, even when impressed upon a writer as a calling, is hard labor. We sweat. We sometimes cry. We do numerous rewrites. And we collect tens of rejection letters during a lifetime.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I’m reserved.

Jakki Kerubo is currently completing her first novel, Between Nairobi and Here. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University in 2013.