In this week's round of the Amazon vs Everybody Wars, Amazon is taking on Japan.

Amazon is exploiting its position as Japan's largest book retailer by ranking publishers according to how much they pay Amazon. The publishers with the highest ranking are given top billing on the Amazon Japan website.

Publishers are calling it "blackmail." 

Amazon is calling it "business as usual."

The manipulation of Amazon Japan is just one more in a long string of extortionist tactics that include removing pre-orders from books published by "uncooperative" publishing companies (Hachette and Macmillan), and removing new video titles from Disney and Time Warner. So far this year, Amazon has incurred the wrath of the FTC, the Author's GuildGermany, and France as well as thousands of authors.

But in spite of being dissed by the German Minister of Culture, Amazon continues to expand. It has gobbled up Goodreads, where it immediately began deleting reviews it found unfavorable, and purchased Twitch, the video-game livestreaming site (where it will no doubt employ the same tactics). Meanwhile Amazon has cut royalty rates on audiobooks, leaving many self-publishers in the lurch.

And the year ain't over yet.

Book publishers shout foul over Amazon Japan's new ratings

Asahi Shimbun, August 28, 2014

By Mayumi Mori/ Staff Writer

Online retail giant Amazon Japan introduced a new system this summer to rank book publishers, a decision that has not gone down well with its business partners.

Amazon Japan is the nation's largest book retailer for paper and electronic media. Its new system gives higher rankings to publishers that pay higher fees to Amazon Japan and to publishers with larger eBook catalogs.

Additionally, eBooks from publishers ranked higher are given more prominence on the Amazon.co.jp website.

Many publishers, including high-profile publishing houses, have protested the move, calling it a form of "blackmail" that exploits the company's considerable dominance in the book retailing industry.

"Wouldn't antitrust authorities start to wonder if Amazon Japan is taking advantage of its monopolistic position in the market?" said Bungeishunju Ltd. when it protested to Amazon Japan in June.

Japanese publishers are continuing to hold talks with Amazon Japan.

Disagreements between parent company, Amazon.com Inc., and publishers are intensifying worldwide.

In the United States, 900 renowned authors protested against Amazon for putting pressure on publishers that resisted the company's demands to lower eBook prices by delaying the shipping of their books.

Media analyst Satoshi Osawa said if publishers start to only focus on dealing with the retailing giant, "it could lead to lower quality of their products."

An official with Amazon Japan's public relations department said, "It's difficult to comment because the issue deals with individual contracts."

The best way to find an agent is to either marry one, or go to conferences. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication.

Unfortunately, most writers can't make it to conferences. So, they are left with the task of writing query letters. (Even if you do find an agent at a conference, you are not off the hook. You still have to write a query.)

Whether you meet an agent in person, or look one up online, you have to do your research. Does the agent represent your genre? Is he/she they willing to take on new clients? Does she/he have a good track record for sales? Which publishers has the agent worked with? How does he/she treat clients? 

All of these questions are important, and all can be answered by researching agents online. These are the steps to take for researching an agent.

1) Go to AgentQuery. Not all agents on agentquery are members of the AAR, but all are established. You can search on an agent's name, or you can search by genre. If you search by genre, make sure you do a full search and filter for agents who are actively seeking clients. As you find agents who are taking on clients in your genre, make a list. This site has lots of great resources, including a list of twitter handles for agents, how to write a query letter, and lists of publishers and literary magazines, to name a few.

2) Go to the agent's or agency's website. (You can do this directly from agentquery.) Is the agent still taking clients? (Sometimes, agentquery is not up to date.) Does the agent still represent your genre? How does the agent sound? Does he or she appear helpful. and supportive? Does the agent charge a "reading fee"? (If so, cross the agent off your list. No reputable agent will charge a fee for reading a manuscript. No reputable agent will use a submission as an excuse to offer "editing" services either.) Very few agents post their contract on their websites, but when they do, read those contracts carefully. Literary agents, unlike talent agents, do not represent you, they represent your book. (Only one.) Contracts that demand representation rights for all your work, or for prequels or sequels, should be avoided.

3) Google the agent. Look for "querytracker," and "absolute write" entries. Both of these will give you insights as to turnaround time, and whether authors have had positive (or negative) experiences. You can also go straight to querytracker and look the agent up directly, and you can go to absolute write forums. (I find it easier to do a google search.) If there are interviews posted online, read them. Interviews are a great way to discover what the agent does and does not like in a query letter, which genres he or she is particularly interested in, and other useful details.

4) Look the agent up on Preditors and Editors. The Pred and Ed website has an extensive list of agents and publishers. If misconduct has been reported, they flag the agent as "not recommended." They also flag the agent if he or she is recommended, and if there have been recent sales. This is a great website, with a lot of resources, so while you are there, feel free to look around.

5) Google "agent [agent's name]". When authors publish a book, they almost always thank their agent in the "acknowledgements" section. Often you will find something like this: "I want to thank my agent, [name of agent] for her tireless support and encouragement." If the book has been listed on google books, this search will find all such acknowledgements. This is a good way to see how many books the agent has represented, which is particularly useful if the agent does not include a list on his or her website.

Once you have assembled a list of agents that meet all your requirements, it's time to send queries.

In the latest round of the Amazon vs Everybody Wars, 900 American authors posted a letter in the NYT asking people to write to Jeff Bezos about his hardball tactics. More than 1000 German, Austrian and Swiss authors have done the same, accusing Amazon of manipulating its recommended reading lists and lying to customers about the availability of books as retaliation in its dispute with the Bonnier Group. To add clout to the protest, the German Minister of Culture, Monika Gruetters, has openly endorsed the letter.

So where does this dispute leave authors who are just trying to get their novels onto a platform where it might have a chance of getting noticed?

The hard truth is that big publishers have let down authors. As an unpublished author, you have to jump through hoops to get an agent, and, when you do, the agent sometimes spends years attempting to sell your book. When your book finally does sell, the contract leaves you with next to nothing in royalties. The publisher does very little to market your book, so sales are poor. Then, you can't get your second book published because the first one was not successful.

That is why so many of us have turned to Amazon. At least we can publish on a platform that is well-trafficked. And we appreciate the opportunity. But, Amazon's battles with the large publishing houses have nothing to do with giving opportunities to writers, or with defending our interests.

Amazon's claim that it is forcing publishers to lower prices to make books more accessible is disingenuous at best. Amazon, unlike publishing houses, does not have to pay editors and proofreaders. It does not have to pay taxes on its stock. Nor does it have to shell out advances to authors, or pay for brick-and-mortar shelf space. And it gets the same deal on wholesale orders from publishing houses as every other retailer, but without the overhead, so its profits are higher. Still, Amazon isn't satisfied.

Amazon won't be content until it holds all the cards in the deck. That is why it is attempting to drive down prices. Book stores are already dropping like flies, unable to compete with Amazon's prices. And once Amazon has finished off the publishers, we're done.
Amazon vs Hachette: It’s Getting Nasty

By Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly, Aug 15, 2014

The two-page ad that ran in the Aug. 10 issue of the New York Times, which more than 900 authors signed calling for readers to email Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to air their displeasure at the company’s tactics in its terms dispute with Hachette Book Group, unleashed some of the harshest language yet in the months-long standoff.

Any pretense that this was a typical publisher-bookseller negotiation, as the parties said when news of the dispute first broke, has given way to statements by the Amazon Books Team in a blog post on Aug. 8 on the readersunited.com site that pointed to HBG’s role in colluding with other publishers to raise e-book prices. (The publishers’ switch to the agency model had the effect of setting prices for Amazon and all other retailers on many new titles at $14.99, well above Amazon’s preferred price of $9.99.) The Amazon post urged readers to email HBG CEO Michael Pietsch and ask him why the publisher was against lower e-book prices. Pietsch responded to the email campaign by noting that HBG sets its own prices, and saved his sharpest criticism for Amazon’s stance in the negotiations, writing that Amazon initiated the fight because it “is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves.”

“Once again,” Pietsch continued, “we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability. We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.”

For its part, the Amazon Books Team said it “will never give up its fight for reasonable e-book prices,” and said that it is HBG that has prevented a deal from getting done. According to Amazon, “Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store.” The company added that it is HBG that has rebuffed three attempts by Amazon to remove authors from getting caught in the crossfire.

The public fight over terms has caused a deep division between authors: those who believe the Amazon argument that lower e-book prices result in higher unit sales and thus more money for everyone, and others who support the HBG position that its ultimate goal in its discussions with Amazon is to preserve a bookselling environment that includes not just Amazon but a range of outlets including bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the book research firm Codex Group, said that, given current market trends, the importance of the dispute between Amazon and HBG “goes well beyond a simple negotiation over selling terms.”

Based on Codex survey data, Amazon has more than tripled its book unit share, from 13% in 2008 to 40% in 2014, which has contributed to an estimated 30% loss of physical bookstore selling space over the same period. With that loss of bookselling space has come a 4% decline in U.S. households reading fiction from 2008 to 2012, according to research by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In Hildick-Smith’s view, just as Hollywood movie studios would be reduced to mere video producers without movie theaters to launch their latest blockbusters, trade publishers without physical bookstores to accelerate new book discovery would be robbed of their unique ability to make break-out bestsellers and author brands, and ultimately be reduced to the role of Amazon associates, reliant on daily deals to promote new titles.

Whether openly acknowledged or not, the book market is “now in a battle for both the survival of physical-world book selling and the trade publishing business model that depends on it,” Hildick-Smith said. “The choice is either to emulate the film industry, with its theaters and strong multiple channels of distribution, or else by default, go the way of the music industry, which has endured a massive revenue decline since it became dominated by digital distribution.”

August is affectionately known as the "dead month" in the publishing industry. During August all work comes to a virtual halt as editors, agents, proofreaders, typesetters, CEOs, dog walkers and everyone else on the planet takes a much-needed vacation.

So, all you aspiring authors, don't submit your manuscript to publishers, and don't send your queries to agents in the month of August. (To be fair, mid-November to mid-January is also a bad time, but for different reasons.)

If your manuscript is ready to go, you have several choices of what to do during the dead month. You can write your next novel

... or

You can do research!

August is the ideal time to gather publishing ammunition. This is how to do it:

1) Make a list of agents. To assemble your list of ideal agents, go to agentquery.com and do a search on your genre (i.e. the genre of the book you want to sell). Make a list of all agents who are accepting queries in that genre. Then, once your list is assembled, go to each and every agency's website to make sure the information you have garnered from agentquery is current. While you are there, read the website, and study the bios of the agents. Do you think the agent will be a good fit for you? If not, take the agent off your list. Next type the agent's name into a google search. Look for entries from "absolutewrite watercooler" and from "querytracker." Read what other writers say about these agents. If writers report bad treatment, then cross the agent off your list. (None of the agents on agentquery will charge a fee, but some who don't may recommend editing services for which they receive a kickback. Don't query an agent who also offers editing services.) Also check preditors&editors for complaints. It will take you at least a month to assemble your list, so have fun.

2) Make a list of reviewers. The time to contact reviewers is three to four months in advance of publication. So, if you have finished your manuscript and plan to self-publish as soon as the last word is written, STOP. Don't publish until you have reviewers lined up, and all your publicity in place. (Interviews, ads, etc.) Go to List of Online Reviewers Who Accept Self-Published Books for a list of 170 book bloggers who review self-published books. Also go to Top 12 Sites for Finding Reviewers for links to several hundred more reviewers and review sites. Cull through these for reviewers who write reviews for your genre. Make a very long list. (You will need several hundred. Returns on review requests are modest.) Be sure to include their email address, or other contact information on your list.

3) If you have written short stories or poems, make a list of literary journals. Trust me, even those few journal editors who say they accept submissions all year round don't read in August. The best way to submit to literary journals is to have a list of 20 or 30 at the ready. If you are going for fame, then start your list with the journals that don't accept simultaneous submissions. If you simply want to get some writing credits under your belt, then make a list of those that do accept simultaneous submissions - and submit to all of them at once. In September. Go here to find short story markets: Top 5 Online Resources for Short Story Markets. Go here for poetry: Top 5 Resources for Publishing Poetry

4) Write templates of query letters and review requests. All letters, whether they are to an agent or a reviewer, need to be individualized. Always include the name of the agent or reviewer in your salutation, say how or where you found them, and tailor your initial pitch to that person's stated interests. That being said, there are some things that will not change from one submission to the next. Your blurb (for reviewers) or pitch (for agents) will be the same, as will your word count, genre, bio and other pertinent information. It is a lot easier to write a template query or review request and tweak it than to compose a new email for each submission. Once you are happy with your template, copy it and paste it into an email. Don't send. Just save it as a draft. Having a draft online will save a lot of time later.

Note: Writer's Digest has a great series on successful queries, which is one of the best resources you will find on how to write a winning query letter.

5) Make a submission packet. If you are submitting directly to publishers, you will need a submission packet. A submission packet typically includes a synopsis of your book, a bio, and a pitch (one paragraph), as well as sample chapters, and log lines, depending on the publisher. It also may include a proposal and a marketing plan if you are publishing a nonfiction book. If you don't know how to write a pitch, or a proposal, or a log line, or a query - now is the time to do some studying. Believe me - and I say this from bitter experience - you don't want to find out what these things are after you have begun contacting agents, publishers, or editors. There is a lot of information online about how to write all of the components of a submission packet. In fact, some agents and publishers are even kind enough to spell out what is involved on their websites.

6) Last, but not least - don't read your manuscript. I am aware that everybody under the sun will tell you to read your manuscript once again to check for typos, logic errors, and awkward syntax that you swear you did not write. (The syntax gremlins did it.) But, if you read your manuscript too many times in succession you will develop manuscript blindness. 

Have you ever noticed that when you look at a word too many times, the spelling no longer makes sense? That is exactly what happens when you read your manuscript too often, especially if you read it from beginning to end. After several readings you can't see your mistakes. If you really must read your book -  yet again - make spot checks. Simply scroll down to a random spot on your manuscript and read whatever paragraph your cursor lands on. I will guarantee you that nine times out of ten you will find something that needs fixing.

So, while your future agent/publisher/editor/reviewers are on a beach enjoying themselves during the month of August, you will be hard at work, proving to them that you are worth their time and attention.

Here are two agents looking for clients. Both of them work for large, well-respected literary agencies that have represented numerous best-selling authors. For information on how long it takes for these agents to respond to queries, as well as other important details, check Query Tracker. (You have to sign up, but it's free.)
Stacy Testa of Writer's House

About Stacy: Stacy joined Writers House in 2011 as an assistant to senior agent Susan Ginsburg and has been actively building her own client list since 2013. Previously, she interned at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Whimsy Literary. Stacy graduated cum laude with a BA in English from Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter:@stacy_testa.

What she is seeking: Stacy is looking for literary fiction and upmarket commercial women’s fiction, particularly character-driven stories with an international setting, historical bent, or focus on a unique subculture. She also represents realistic young adult (no dystopian or paranormal, please!). For nonfiction, she is particularly interested in young “millennial” voices with a great sense of humor and a strong platform, startling and unique memoirs, and voice-driven narratives about little-known historical moments.

How to submit: Please submit your query, including the first five pages of your manuscript pasted into the body of the email (no attachments), to stesta [at] writershouse.com. Please do not query multiple Writers House agents simultaneously.

Catherine Luttinger of Darhansoff & Verrill

What she is seeking: Catherine is primarily interested in science fiction and fantasy. To her, that includes anything that could even remotely be labeled as such. Viable submission material includes everything from classic space operas to the apocalypse; alternative universes, dystopias, and eco-thrillers—as well as the paranormal, horror, zombies, plagues, and time travel. She is also willing to look at historical fiction, mythology re-told, YA, thrillers and mysteries. You may also pitch her pop-science nonfiction.

How to submit: Send queries to submissions@dvagency.com. Put “Query for Catherine: [TITLE]” in your subject line.

  • Please note that Catherine is not yet listed on the agency's website.

This week nearly every title from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment had its preorder option  removed.

I am beginning to see a pattern. Amazon changes the terms of its contract with a publisher. The publisher objects to a unilateral change in terms. Amazon punishes the publisher and/or its authors by withdrawing the preorder option, or by removing its titles entirely. Authors, nations, official bodies get involved and the New York Times writes an article about the dispute.

Douglas Preston, one of the authors hurt in the Hachette-Amazon dispute, sums these battles up nicely. "It is," he says, "like talking to a 5-year-old." Preston, a best-selling author, is circulating a letter that, so far, has garnered 909 signatures. The letter asks Jeff Bezos to stop using authors as hostages.

It is unlikely that Amazon will change its tactics. But given the huge loss Amazon recently suffered, it might be a good idea if they played nice for a change.


Disney Disc Preorders Disappear From Amazon

Home Media Magazine, 7 Aug, 2014

By: Chris Tribbey The preorder option for almost every title from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has been removed on Amazon, in an apparent repeat of what Warner Home Video went through earlier this summer.

Preorder options for practically every major disc release from Disney are currently unavailable, including Muppets Most Wanted (Aug. 12), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Sept. 9), Million Dollar Arm (Oct. 7) and Maleficent (Nov. 4). The Blu-ray Disc combo release of Disneynature’s Bears is still available for preorder ahead of the title’s Aug. 12 street date.

Representatives from Disney and Amazon were not immediately available for comment.

From mid-May to late June, preorders for most Warner titles were unavailable on Amazon, with the two sides working out a new distribution deal. It marked the first time Amazon halted preorders as a negotiating tactic. Amazon Instant Video early electronic sellthrough of new-release Warner titles were unaffected.

The same situation appears to be occurring with Disney: those shopping Amazon for Muppets Most Wanted on disc, which streets in just a few days, are told to “Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available.” However, Amazon Instant Video versions of the film ($14.99 for standard-def, $19.99 high-def) are still available for preorder (“plus bonus features,” the listing reads).

Disc options for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Million Dollar Arm aren’t listed at all, while Amazon Instant Video preorder options remain.

Amazon has been in a months-long contract dispute with book publisher Hachette, and has employed similar tactics, removing preorder availability for books from the publishing house.