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Changes To ALLi Team: Watchdog

Karen Lotter Social Advice for Self Publishers

It’s all change here at ALLi  at the moment. We’re sorry to announce that Karen Lotter, who has been with ALLi from the start, and who is familiar to so many of you for her great work on Members Showcase, is moving on. Karen, who is based in South Africa, is going to work with the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Executive Council’s Special Reference Group on Migration and Community Integration.

Karen and I have been friends since long before ALLi. We met when she attended my Writing School in Dublin, back in 2007, and we’ve worked closely together, since I started blogging the year after that, and even more so since the foundation of ALLi in 2012. We are all going to miss her, including the many members with whom she worked on Member’s Showcase, and none more than me.

Also, many of you know that our watchdog, Jim Giammatteo, was taken seriously ill earlier this year.  Jim is making a slow recovery from a series of heart attacks and strokes.  We are looking forward to welcoming him back when he is in a position to return to work.  In the meantime, we needed to grow our our Watchdog desk and to have a dedicated manager for our Partner Members, as our work monitoring and trying to influence ethics in the self-publishing services sector grows.

So I’m delighted to introduce you to Andy Lowe.

New Watchdog and Partner Member Manager

Andy Lowe, latest addition to ALLi’s Watchdog Desk

Andy is a journalist recently turned author-publisher and book editor. He’s worked with titles like GQ, Vogue, Total Film and Vanity Fair, in both creative and managerial roles. Based in London, he will liaise with me, the ALLi team and other vigilant members of the author community worldwide, including Victoria Strauss, David Gaughran and Mick Rooney.

As if to emphasise the importance of this role, controversy arose about an author service last week. Last April, at our London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe conference, the publishing consultant and commentator, Porter Anderson, did a ten minute talk on Self-e, a new library service for authors. When Porter originally approached me about this service, it sounded like a good opportunity for authors to get into the library service in the US and around the globe. Without looking into it in detail, I agreed.

Last week David Gaughran highlighted on his facebook page that Porter is being paid to promote the service and, furthermore, that there is no facility for author payment built into the program, as it stands.

To be fair, though I wasn’t aware of it, Porter had made no secret of being paid to promote. So, because he is a friend, and a trusted and respected publishing colleague who commended the service (and I know he wouldn’t commend any service if he didn’t rate it highly, consultancy fees notwithstanding); and because I tend to think of libraries in terms of discoverability, rather than sales; and because Jim wasn’t available to run it through in our usual way, I failed to look closely enough before putting the presentation on stage.

There is an important principle at stake here. While nobody thinks of libraries as big commercial opportunities (and even watchdogs vary widely in their views on this, as the comments on this post on the Independent Publishing Magazine show), everybody in this chain of book-to-library-reader is being paid, except the content provider and copyright holder: the author.

This is wrong.

I have since spoken, at length, to Porter and Self-e and been assured by Ian Singer, VP, Group Publisher, Library Journals, Self-e parent company, that he hears authors’ concern and, although there is no provision for author payment at the moment, that is now open to review (see also comment below). Ian estimates that the library market in the US is worth between $4m and $8m to Self-e. We will continue to monitor the situation and to urge Library Journal to honor its obligations to authors.

(There’s more — for those who are interested — in  two posts on SELF-e at Jane Friedman’s blog, both written by Porter: the post that kicked off the controversy, How Self-Published Authors Can Distribute to Libraries; and a follow up, exploring issues arising: A Conversation With the SELF-e Team: Exploring Payment for Authors)

For me, the incident emphasised, once again, how important it is to have an independent assessment, beyond the bonds of friendship and association, and all the many other factors that can prevent us from seeing clearly. Mea culpa in this case, and my thanks to David Gaughran, who has once again done authors a service.

So… onwards! And welcome — not a minute too soon — to Andy, ALLi’s new Watchdog and Partner Member Manager.

partner badgePartner Member Manager

Andy’s new role will involve him in rating and vetting aspiring Partner Members and I knew he was the man for the job when he said: “I want to make an ALLi Partner Member Badge a mark of trust and quality, like a Michelin star.”

When asked what he’d like to do for ALLi Members, he said: “Self-publishing is an exciting and revolutionary movement but it’s also emergent, and awash with sharks, scammers and good-intentioned, but uneven, start-ups. I’m here to make sure that author-publishers get the best possible experience from ethical and reputable ALLi Partner Members, as well as keeping them up to speed with the traps and pitfalls out in the wild.”

Andy is currently putting his first Watchdog Report together on — what else? — library services and authors, in which we’ll look not only at self-e but at all the library services available to authors, and their payment options and other terms and conditions.

We are also currently finalising the latest update of How To Choose A Self publishing Service and working on the latest Partner Member Directory, both of which will launch in September.

If you have any feedback for Andy — good or bad — on any author service, you can let him know here.

Our very best wishes for continued recovery to our dear friend Jim.

And for a wonderful career ahead to our dear friend Karen.

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21 Responses to Changes To ALLi Team: Watchdog

  1. Ian Singer July 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    You bet, Orna. We’re in this for all the right reasons, and so I’m very happy to let individuals determine for themselves the best courses of action.

    Libraries buy from distributors such as Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Amazon, BroDart, etc. Getting actual royalty/payment information is very difficult as such. The acquisition process occurs through various processes at the library, often led by collection development librarians, i.e., Young Adult, etc. Orders are often standing orders (based on author, based on publisher, pub dates, circulation, holds, turnover, etc.,etc., etc).

    As such, this should begin to illustrate the issues self-published authors have in the library market: it’s very hard for distributors to pick up self-published titles primarily due to: 1) lack of recognization/curation; and 2) economics. And if those titles aren’t “seen” by librarians as a result (via acquisition systems that include LJ reviews to help assess a title), there is no way a self-published work gets into the library discovery channel – this is what self-e is trying to address.

    All that said, a majority of LJ and School Library Journal and The Horn Book advertisers are publishers precisely because of the value the library market as both a discovery channel as well as a decent revenue source.

    Respectfully,
    Ian

    • David Gaughran July 18, 2015 at 9:56 am #

      “We’re in this for all the right reasons.”

      Does that moral logic extend to Library Journal’s relationship with Author Solutions?

      • Orna Ross July 18, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

        Thanks David for raising the Author Solutions connection with library services. Andy will be assessing library links with ASI as part of the coming Watchdog Report.

  2. Porter Anderson July 16, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Hi, Orna,

    Thank you for this good accounting of the SELF-e presentation’s inclusion at the Indie Author Fringe conference in April. I agree with you and Maria and Pelham in your comments, we’re all in uncharted territory here. As you know, it’s never my intention to be anything less than transparent about my consultancy work, and my Disclosures page is always available for folks to check and see who I’m working with. It’s here: http://bit.ly/1f74Tmr I can be contacted at any time with questions about my work here: http://bit.ly/1J2hv6d

    My role with SELF-e is as a consultant paid on retainer, not affiliate fees, to call authors’ attention to its offering. I recommend they consider it, yes. I do not recommend that authors participate if they feel it’s not for them. I say this in each article and appearance about it and I point out the pros and the cons. Because I’m on retainer, there is no incentive for me to persuade authors to sign up, and I present it entirely in my own words as I see fit. In short, I’m not a recruiter.

    As we’ve discussed, my belief in SELF-e is solid, you’re correct. I do think that this is a valuable development for indie authors because they need access to the US library system — one of the largest concentrations of English-language readers in the world. And so far, as we know, getting into this mighty system has been a singularly tough nut to crack, despite the interest of many libraries’ staffs in self-published authors’ work. There are few organizations familiar and respected enough by our American librarians to put something like this into place: Library Journal and BiblioBoard are in a unique position to create SELF-e and have spent a year and a half (entirely on their own funding) getting it to this point.

    I join you in hoping that at some point SELF-e can offer some payment to authors. There’s no “bucket of gold coins” in the library system, as Mick Rooney has so artfully put it. But, as you know, the principle of writers being paid is a priority for me, and I support the SELF-e team in starting the programme as they have structured it, while hoping that they’ll find ways to bring author remuneration into the picture.

    SELF-e offers a potentially rich discovery channel, free of charge, that our indie authors simply haven’t had. If an author isn’t pleased, he or she can come back out of SELF-e at any time. I’m glad to help authors learn about this opportunity so they can weigh its merits, and, as always, I appreciate the work that you and ALLi’s other Watchdogs do in looking at this and other propositions offered to our author corps.

    Thanks again,
    -p.

    On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

  3. Chris Casburn July 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    Love the openness and honesty. You’re doing an amazing job Orna. Best wishes to Karen. Onwards and upwards.

  4. Ian Singer July 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    Orna –

    Thanks again for taking the time to talk with Library Journal and BiblioLabs the other day.

    A number of clarifications and comments to your reflections:

    1 – patrons don’t get “paid” in the self-e chain, and it is precisely exposing content to this large, relatively “untapped by self-published authors” readership that self-e is intended to reach and importantly, LJ doesn’t get paid for its curation services (others sell this service – do you promote / advocate / support that?) unless and until a library purchases a module – where is the recognition of that valuable service provided by the most trusted review resource in the US public library market, at no cost;

    2 – at present, both LJ and BiblioLabs have invested significant resources to getting the Self-e program running; it is very fair to say we’re nowhere close to recouping our investments;

    3 – what I did say in reply to royalties is this: a) we just launched our first module (200+ self-published titles) at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago. We have the ability to track circulation of titles, and as the modules grow, we absolutely intend to share that information with authors and that could very well lead to royalties – but I’m not promising anything . . . yet!;

    4 – what we also suggested is that we have always recognized self-e isn’t for all authors: http://self-e.libraryjournal.com/authors/is-self-e-right-for-me/;

    5 – I also offered Library Journal’s support in helping your membership understand how public libraries and collection development/acquisition librarians work . . . that still stands . . . because once that is understood, the value of self-e becomes more clear: it’s not just about money . . . it is about LJ’s mission in supporting libraries and librarians, and they struggle with validating acquisition of self-published works.

    Respectfully,
    Ian Singer
    Group Publisher – Library Journal, School Library Journal, and The Horn Book

    • Orna Ross July 16, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      Hi Ian, thanks so much for dropping by and for our conversation and organising your team to update us on the situation at SELF-e. My post here was necessarily brief and unable to go into all the issues in detail but we’ll be doing a full evaluation of SELF-e and other library services in a Watchdog report, hopefully next week. Just to say that of course we’re only expecting authors to get paid when others get paid i.e on purchase of a module. We’re also investigating how trade publishers are paid and how royalties from library sales get through to the author — perhaps you could shed some light there? ALLi most certainly is behind any support for libraries and librarians… the unsung soldiers of the book ecosystem. And to seeing lots of great indie books in libraries. We wish SELF-e every success and looking forward to learning more. Much thanks!

  5. Barry Knister July 16, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Orna–
    I read about the SELF-e program on two U.S. blogs that reprinted what Porter Anderson published. I certainly see the point you’re making about everyone in the food chain getting paid except the writer. I also make it a point to pay close attention to anything David Gaughran has to say (as I do with Porter Anderson). Even so, the potential value of exposure in libraries for indie writers does in my view constitute “compensation.”
    I leave comments at blogs (as I am doing here), and write occasional guest posts for which I’m not paid. I do it because I enjoy doing it, AND because it gives my name, book titles and author website some exposure. This does not strike me as much different from the SELF-e program, except for the much greater exposure that inclusion in libraries would bring me.
    Another part of the indie author’s compensation would be the selectivity process: people with some legitimacy to make qualitative judgments will lend their authority to the books chosen for libraries. As things stand now (at least in the U.S.), being skillful in the manipulation of social- media marketing is far more important than is the quality of a book, in terms of gaining readers. Being chosen for library lists would serve to push back against the control that marketing has assumed in indie publishing.
    One question I raised has to do with Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla for indie authors: is the SELF-e program out of bounds for authors enrolled in the KDP Select program (90-day exclusivity for Amazon)? Anderson replied that he was trying to get an answer on this from Amazon, but hadn’t yet.
    Finally, here’s a question for you. I have not yet joined ALLi, in part because it seems so dominated by its British origins, or perhaps Commonwealth leanings would be more accurate. As you refer above to the money involved in the U.S. library market, I’m wondering who among those on the payroll at ALLi represents (so to speak) American interests? This is not to suggest that your organization hasn’t gained a lot of “cred” without such a representative, but I ask anyway.

    • Orna Ross July 16, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      I completely agree Barry that many authors will be happy to do this for discoverability — and that SELF-e could probably have chosen to charge for their services and had many happy customers and are to be commended for making it free to authors. But nonetheless, we’d hold to the line that payment to the author is only right, if everyone else is being paid. As to your US question, watch this space… developments unfolding!

    • Porter Anderson July 16, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

      Hey, Barry,

      Just caught your good comment here as I was answering Orna and Debbie, good to see you following this debate so well, as you do at Writer Unboxed.

      Per your question (I think at Anne R. Allen’s spot first), I’ve just had word back from Seattle.

      The position of Amazon KDP Select on SELF-e is that it is not compatible with Select. I don’t think this is unexpected, but it’s good to have a nice, clear ruling on it and I’ll be getting back to a couple of others who have asked this good question, too.

      Hope that helps with that inquiry, then, and do let me know of any other way I can help out in terms of considering the SELF-e offering.

      Noting Orna’s reply below and your thoughtful commentary here, I’m in the interesting position, in fact, of saying that you’re both right. I agree with you that the 300-million-patron US library system is well worth entry by indie authors via this new channel, if those authors weigh the programme’s no-royalty feature and other values carefully. (And participation is reversible — you can come back out of it, of course, if for some reason it doesn’t work out as hoped.)

      I do, though, agree that whenever possible, a paid writer is better than an unpaid writer, and while I support the SELF-e team wholeheartedly in structuring the programme to get it this far as they have, I’ll be happy if some day they’re able to consider payments for authors.

      For now, I think we work with what we have: no royalty payments but no charge, either, and no loss of rights, while a chance at a big new avenue to exposure. This will be right for some, not right for others, and we want each author to make her and his decision in the best way, eyes wide open.

      Thanks again, Barry, see you at WU,
      -p.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

  6. Debbie Young July 16, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    First of all, as someone who has worked closely with Karen Lotter since joining the ALLi team, I’d like to say a huge thank you to her for sharing her wisdom, common sense and down-to-earth attitude. I have learned so much from you, Karen, and I will be eternally grateful. Your new employer couldn’t wish for a smarter, more generous or sensible recruit, and I’m sure you will do great work there.

    I’m delighted that Andy Lowe has joined us as a Watchdog and Partner Member – another wise, calm and thoughtful person with big ideas. Love the Michelin star analogy! Our much-loved Watchdog Jim Giammatteo is a very hard act to follow but I’m sure that he would be pleased that Andy has stepped in while he is so unwell, and would have every confidence in him.

    It’s great that he’s kicking off with libraries, including defining exactly what Self-e does or doesn’t offer us. It’s not surprising that there has been a bit of confusion about it – when things develop so quickly in our industry, it’s inevitable that there’ll be the odd misinterpretation or assumption along the way, especially when, as community-minded opportunists, indie authors are swift to share what looks like a great opening for indie authors, and when something comes recommended by Porter, it’s reasonable to accept it at face value, as we would accept things by our many other trusted advisors such as Joanna Penn, David Gaughran etc, even if and when we know they’re earning affiliate fees for their recommendations. (No crime in that – we’ve all got to earn a living somehow, and affiliate payment schemes are great income-boosters for authors, as is ALLi’s own for member-get-member recommendations.) People like Porter, with such excellent reputations, will only ever recommend things they truly believe are good for us. Great that we have the resources now to explore it further so that we are all clear where we stand – and brilliant that you have now got Self-e considering the issue of payment to authors. Result! 🙂

    • Porter Anderson July 16, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

      Hey, Debbie!

      Just want to thank you for your good comment here, and for your wise insights into the SELF-e debate.

      You’re exactly right that it’s easy for any of us to make assumptions about new arrivals on the scene, not least because new offerings seem to turn up almost hourly!

      Those of us who do introduce such opportunities — as Joanna does, as i do, per what you’re saying — are always careful to start, you’re correct, with our own ability to support something earnestly. And, as I’m reiterating to Orna in a comment here, I do indeed believe without reservation that SELF-e is an unprecedented and excellent opportunity for authors who decide it’s right for them.

      I’m impressed with the SELF-e team. One thing you recognise very fast is that they’d never jeopardise their own standing in the American library system with something that wasn’t put together correctly. Their real currency is the trust that librarians have in their work, they won’t risk that by cobbling together something that isn’t the best they can make it for all parties. That’s why SELF-e is a programme that Library Journal and BiblioBoard can put together where others couldn’t.

      I agree with you completely about the value of affiliate payment schemes, but in this case, even that turns out to be one of those areas that can end up being misinterpreted: I’ve carefully arranged it so that I’m paid by Library Journal strictly on a consultancy retainer. If 1,000 people submit their ebooks to SELF-e today because they heard about it from me, I get no more money than if two people participate. This means that there’s no incentive for me to “sign ’em up.” As I was saying in my comment to Orna, I’m not in the position of recruiting authors for SELF-e, there’s no script from the home office, lol. My service to Library Journal is strictly getting the word out as I see fit and totally honestly, saying “here are the pros, here are the cons, and I think it’s well worth your taking a look.”

      Thanks for your abiding support for what I do, Debbie, it means a lot. I think we both come out of a place of commitment in the issues and approaches we choose to take, and your even-handed viewpoint is what makes your leadership in ALLi campaigns is so effective.

      Cheers,
      -p.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

      • David Gaughran July 18, 2015 at 9:23 am #

        So you don’t see any conflict of interest in (a) being a publishing journalist and (b) accepting money from companies in the publishing arena to get their message out?

        I see a huge conflict there. I’ve seen you talk about SELF-e lots of times. That post on Jane Friedman’s blog was the first time I found out you were being paid by Library Journal to promote SELF-e.

        So, yeah. This is an issue. But apparently I’m rude for mentioning it. Hmmm.

  7. Maria Constantine July 16, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    Wishing Karen lots of success in her new role and many thanks for all the work she has put into ALLi over the years. Congratulations to Andy and look forward to reading the latest Watchdog news.
    Orna you do a great job in helping authors globally; I was at the conference in April when Porter talked about Self-e and at times I think it’s tough to balance being at the forefront of developments within the publishing industry and taking time to look at the developments in depth. We’re all on this journey together, learning as we go along.

    • Orna Ross July 16, 2015 at 11:34 am #

      Thank you Maria and that is true. In discussing it with Porter afterwards, we both agreed that to some extent we are all – including the folks at SELF-e – making it up as we go along, and in any creative environment mistakes are inevitable. Thanks so much for your support!

  8. JJ Toner July 16, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Good luck, Karen, on your new role. Perhaps you’ll come back to us some time in the future.

    JJ

  9. Pelham McMahon July 16, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you Orna, please don’t feel bad about missing such a detail. ALLi is run on a shoe string and you are often doing multiple tasks – i am just surprised that you survive.
    Welcome to Andy Lowe , I hope he is a good support for you.
    Above all the biggest of thank you’s to dear Karen. Please don’t lose touch with all of us and good luck with your new job.

    • Orna Ross July 16, 2015 at 11:35 am #

      Thank you Pelham. we all hope Karen will pop by regularly and tell us how she is getting along

  10. Nelly Harper July 16, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Wonderful news. It is so comforting to know we have such a fantastic organisation behind us that we can trust to turn to for advice, support and friendship.
    Without it I would not be an author publisher today and I am sure there are many others who feel the same.
    Keep up the excellent work and thank you.

    Nelly

    • Orna Ross July 16, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Thank you Nelly for your understanding and support and so pleased to know your ALLi membership has helped you along your path.

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