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Amazon launches digital platform for fan fiction

Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Worlds, a new digital publishing platform for fan fiction, touted as the first legal commercial platform of its kind.

Despite the prevalence of online fan fiction, copyright laws make it illegal to profit from it. Kindle Worlds, however, has acquired licences for three book series from Warner Bros.’ Alloy Entertainment: Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar, Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard, and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith. More licences will be announced soon. Royalties will be paid by Amazon to rights holders of the original work, and authors will receive a royalty rate of 35 per cent of net revenue for works of at least 10,000 words.

Concurrently, Amazon launched a pilot program for shorter works (between 5,000 and 10,000 words), which are typically priced under $1. Authors will be paid a 20 per cent royalty rate.

Fan-fiction submissions are being accepted as of today, with the digital storefront to launch in June.

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Shelagh Rogers’ multimedia Northwords project brings city-dwelling authors out of their comfort zone

Led by CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers, five urban Canadian authors spent a week writing and observing life in Northern Labrador. Northwords, a documentary that captures their experiences, is screening at IFOA, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. The film will make its television debut Oct. 25, 10 p.m. ET on CBC’s documentary channel, and the radio documentary is available here.

This article appears in the November issue of Q&Q.

Rabindranath Maharaj (Photo: Joel McConvey)

Many authors find the familiarity of daily rituals a necessary part of their practice. Take away the comforts of home, and the writing process can become even more of a challenge.

“I think that writers can be quite obsessive about their routines,” says Toronto’s Alissa York, author of three novels including 2010’s Fauna (Random House Canada). “Sometimes [with] travel that you don’t necessarily plan for, or that’s outside of what you normally do, you think, ‘How am I going to fit that with my life?’”

York posed herself that question when she was approached to participate in Northwords, a multimedia project instigated by CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter.

In August 2011, Rogers invited five writers – York, Sarah Leavitt, Noah Richler, Joseph Boyden, and Rabindranath Maharaj – to join her on an expedition to Torngat Mountains National Park in Northern Labrador. For one week, the authors traded the coziness of their homes and offices for tents and vast, rugged landscapes lashed by inclement weather. They participated in helicopter rides, interacted with Inuit elders, and witnessed caribou hunts and polar bears.

Adding to the sense of disruption was the fact that Rogers brought along a film crew, which captured the writers’ reactions to their unfamiliar surroundings. The resulting Northwords documentary, which airs Oct. 25 on CBC TV and had its premiere screening at the Eden Mills Literary Festival, won the best documentary prize at the Banff International Pilots Competition. Accompanying the film is an interactive website, an ebook published by House of Anansi Press, and an episode of The Next Chapter.

Noah Richler (Photo: Joel McConvey)

For York, the Northwords project changed the way she looks at Canada’s North.

“I’m looking at it as wilderness, and right beside me there’s someone looking at it thinking, ‘I grew up here,’” says York, referring to an Inuit elder who guided the writers through an ancestral village from which her people had been forcibly evacuated. “It’s just a question of shifting away from where we’re told the centre of life is and understanding that there [are] as many centres as there are lives.”

Maharaj, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Ajax, Ontario, was likewise moved by his Northern experience. The Trinidad-born author of the Trillium Book Award–winning novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy (Knopf Canada) recalls studying the geography of Northern Canada in his youth and being motivated to visit a place he’d only encountered in books.

“There was that kind of romantic idea of seeing things that I’d heard about or read about in the distant past,” says Maharaj. “There are some places that are so different from your own experience in every single way that it takes a while to process that, and sometimes the true significance and importance [comes] gradually, rather than some grand moment of clarity while you’re at the place.”

Leavitt, an artist and author of the graphic novel Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me (Freehand Books), felt a sense of reverence not just for the landscape and its people, but for the seasoned, well-known writers whose company she kept.

“I had one book and some shorter publications, but those guys all have multiple books and they have much higher profiles than I do,” says Leavitt, who credits the experience with boosting her confidence as a writer. “It was intimidating, but they’re all just really, really nice people. Just meeting people who are so dedicated to their writing and working on their craft was inspiring.”

While in Torngat, the five authors were required to write original stories and read them out loud to the group. Leavitt produced a series of illustrated, one-page vignettes. Maharaj’s short story followed his Absorbing Boy protagonist on a new adventure, while  York’s story was spurred by thoughts of her brother. Richler riffed on the daunting waiver the writers were asked to sign before embarking on the trip, and Boyden wrote from the point of view of a polar bear.

Saglek Bay inukshuk (Photo: Joel McConvey)

The stories are included in the Northwords ebook, the first publication produced by Anansi’s new digital division. According to president and publisher Sarah Mac­Lachlan, the stories, available as a collection or as digital singles, put an exclamation point on the project.

“I think if you go to the interactive [website] or you watch the movie, you get an idea of each of these writers and their response to the North, but the fun is in reading what they actually wrote all the way through,” she says.

Though he thinks the stories are all unique, Maharaj identifies a common element throughout his fellow travellers’ work. “What we wrote reflected that sense of uncertainty,” he says. “That sense of awe, that sense … of being in a place that may possess secrets or answers.”

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Random House of Canada launches online magazine as part of digital overhaul

What does a major publishing house look like in the digital age?

Random House of Canada has offered one answer with today’s launch of a multifaceted digital strategy that includes an online magazine (known as Hazlitt), an ebook imprint (Hazlitt Originals), and a website redesign.

The centrepiece of the campaign is the online magazine, the subject of some industry speculation ever since Random House of Canada hired Christopher Frey, a founder of Outpost magazine and Toronto Standard, earlier this year. While Hazlitt, which takes its name from a 19th-century literary critic and essayist, will be hosted on the Random House of Canada website, the company says it will maintain editorial independence, relying on freelance journalists to provide much of the content.

“As the idea evolved, there was an understanding at several levels of the company that for this, as a magazine, to succeed and build an audience and have credibility, it will have to have its own editorial identity,” Frey told Q&Q, following a media launch earlier this week. “Many of the people writing for it will have to be non–Random House authors or working journalists. We will need to be able to write about everything in the culture, and not just Random House books.”

Contributing writers will include Lynn Crosbie, Kaitlin Fontana, Billie Livingston, Jason McBride, Drew Nelles, and Carl Wilson, as well as filmmaker Scott Cudmore (who will provide multimedia content). Frey says he views the magazine as “competing with any other Web-based magazine out there, like Slate or Salon or The Awl, or the Web versions of other print magazines.”

Hazlitt stories can be read online for free. At launch, the magazine features limited advertising, and cross-promotions for Random House titles appear low-key.

“This is an opportunity for us directly to engage with readers, and to bring the writers we represent close to readers,” says Robert Wheaton, vice-president and director of strategic digital business development. “Learning from readers is of tremendous importance to us across the entirety of our business.”

As for the other key facet of Random House of Canada’s online push, the digital department will work with the company’s book publishing division to produce ebooks under the Hazlitt Originals imprimatur. The first title in the series, which will focus on non-fiction and essays, is journalist Patrick Graham’s The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter’s Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising. It will be followed by U.K. journalist Steven Poole’s “anti-foodie polemic” You Aren’t What You Eat and Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s mayor.

The digital-only publishing initiative takes a page from Byliner.com and the Canadian Writers’ Group, the writers’ organization behind the ebook Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three by journalist Paula Todd. Likewise, the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario’s Open Book project and the Association of Canadian Publishers’ 49th Shelf are both attempts to create an online hub serving the dual role of marketing tool and source for compelling content.

But the scope of Random House’s digital ambitions are unprecedented in Canadian publishing. “Ultimately, we view this as a platform for future innovations in publishing,” Frey says.

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Wattpad teams up with Margaret Atwood to launch Atty Awards for international poetry

Wattpad, a Toronto-based online community for international writers and readers, has put out a call for submissions for its first ever Atty Awards recognizing work by undiscovered poets. Winning entries will be selected by Margaret Atwood, the prize’s namesake, who in July began posting a new series of poems to the site under the title Thriller Suite.

“We want to create a digital-first opportunity for poets to share their work and for audiences to discover the genre. Poems can be submitted from anywhere, and we anticipate that some entries will be written on mobile devices,” says Wattpad CEO and co-founder Allen Lau in a press release.

Award hopefuls are encouraged to enter their English-language work as either a competitor or an enthusiast. Competitors are to put forward a collection of 10 poems, each one following a different poetic form. Prizes for the competitor category include $1,000 (U.S.), feedback sessions with Atwood via Fanado, copies of The 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology (House of Anansi Press), subscriptions to Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind online writing courses, and participation certificates signed by Atwood.

Enthusiasts are required to submit one poem, and will be entered in a draw for prizes such as a Nexus 7 tablet and a special-edition Atty Award t-shirt signed by Atwood. All entries in both categories will be considered for a draw to name a character in Atwood’s upcoming novel, MaddAddam.

The deadline for entries is Oct. 31. Details can be found via Wattpad.

In addition to the Attys, Wattpad offers more than $10,000 worth of prizes through its annual Watty Awards, which celebrate the most popular and well-liked stories posted to the online community.

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Harlequin faces lawsuit for unpaid digital royalties

It’s fair to say that Harlequin, the world’s leading romance publisher, has also been at the forefront of digital publishing, at least among mainstream publishers with a substantial print legacy. The Toronto-based company (it’s owned by Torstar and has offices in North York as well as New York City) was among the first to launch a digital-only imprint, and it has proven adept at experimenting with new technologies.

However, Harlequin’s reputation as a digital pioneer may be tainted. As first reported by Publishers Lunch (subscription only), the publisher is the target of a class action lawsuit alleging that it has been underpaying authors on digital royalties. The lawsuit alleges that Harlequin used a pair of Swiss-registered companies it controlled to pay authors only a fraction of the digital royalties they were owed.

According to the initial complaint (which can be read in its entirety at HarlequinLawsuit.com), Harlequin authors are entitled to receive 50 per cent of net receipts for all digital sales. The problem is how “net receipts” is defined. The industry generally interprets the term as referring to the amount received by the publisher once the retailer has taken its cut (usually no more than 50 per cent).

The lawsuit alleges that Harlequin based its calculation on a much smaller sum, which the publisher was able to justify by interpreting “net receipts” as a licensing fee paid to its Swiss-based affiliate. The defendants argue that Harlequin’s Swiss arm (which was preceded by a Dutch company also registered in Switzerland for “tax purposes”) does not engage in any publishing activities and should not be used as the basis for calculating royalties.

The initial complaint breaks it down into dollars and cents. For an $8 ebook, authors should expect a royalty of at least $2 (in other words, half of the $4 Harlequin would receive from the retailer). In reality, authors received between $0.24 to $0.32 for every digital sale, or just 6–8 per cent of true net receipts.

The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York on behalf of three U.S.-based authors, Barbara Keiler (who writes under the pseudonym “Judith Arnold”), Mona Gay Thomas (“Gayle Wilson”), and Linda Barrett.

The initial complaint, which concerns publishing agreements entered into from 1990 to 2004, defines the class as about 1,000 Harlequin authors based in the U.S. and Canada (as well as other Commonwealth countries) whose contracts include the standard digital royalty of 50 per cent.

UPDATE: Harlequin released a brief statement Thursday afternoon in which it states, “The publisher wishes to make clear that this is the first it has heard of the proceedings and that a complaint has not yet been served.”

Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes gives the following statement: “Our authors have been recompensed fairly and properly for their work, and we will be defending ourselves vigorously.”

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In the July/August issue of Q&Q: fall’s most anticipated books

FALL PREVIEW

A first look at the season’s most anticipated books

Fiction: Susan Swan’s long-awaited prequel to The Wives of Bath; Alice Munro’s new collection; Matthew Tierney’s science-inspired poetry; and more

Non-fiction: Neil Young’s rock ’n’ roll memoir; Andrew Nikiforuk’s oil-industry polemic; Julie Devaney’s unique medical memoir; and more

Books for young people: Orca’s adventure series debut; Margaret Atwood’s latest alliterative picture book; Susan Juby’s dystopian vision; and more

International books: Chinua Achebe’s civil war memoir; Ian McEwan’s literary spy novel; Zadie Smith’s new fictional direction; and more

FROM THE EDITOR
For Literary Press Group: the good news came just in time

FRONTMATTER
The delicate art of the author photo

How metadata improves online visibility

Emily Schultz’s blonde ambition

Northern retailer Chat Noir Books’ community-oriented approach

Snapshot: Black Bond Books co-owner Cathy Jesson

Cover to cover: Fran Kimmel’s The Shore Girl

REVIEWS
Inside by Alix Ohlin

Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin

People Park by Pasha Malla

Gay Dwarves of America by Ann Fleming

Y by Marjorie Celona

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book that Defined the “Special Relationship” by Peter Clarke

PLUS more fiction, non-fiction, and poetry

BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Uncle Wally’s Old Brown Shoe by Wallace Edwards

Old MacDonald Had Her Farm by JonArno Lawson; Tina Holdcroft, illus.

Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

PLUS more fiction, non-fiction, and picture books

THE Q&Q/BOOKNET CANADA BESTSELLERS

THE LAST WORD Pasha Malla on why the most affecting literature thumbs its nose at the rules

Subscribe to Q&Q
Get the digital edition

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Book links roundup: Indigo CEO says physical books are surviving digital age, classic books get bold makeovers, and more

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Toronto’s Silver Snail Comics offers sneak peek of Yonge Street store and cafe

Silver Snail Comics Queen Street West storefront (Photo: silversnail.com)

Silver Snail Comics co-owner George Zotti is offering the public a video tour of the store’s new home just steps away from Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square.

In addition to the standard comic book fare, the 3,300 square-foot store at 329 Yonge Street will house a large kids’ section, gallery space, and lounge area complete with iPads for in-store reading of digital comics. They’re also working on making the second-storey space wheelchair accessible.

Arguably the biggest change from the Queen Street site will be the addition of a cafe, where Zotti plans on getting creative with the menu, with specials like the “Flashiccino.” “You get three [espresso] shots for the price of one shot,” Zotti explains with a laugh. The cafe is a bid to keep the shop competitive in a neighbourhood that’s also home to Indigo, The World’s Biggest Bookstore, BMV, 401 Games, and One Million Comix.

Zotti and partner Mark Gingras revealed the new location last month, a year after announcing the iconic comic book shop would be leaving its historic Queen Street West location this summer. (Check out what’s being proposed for the site.)

According to Torontoist, the Yonge Street location should open by July 1 — just in time to host Dave McKean, the award-winning graphic novelist and illustrator who has collaborated with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Richard Dawkins, and chef Heston Blumenthal.

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Book links roundup: Can fictional characters influence people? Florida libraries ban 50 Shades of Grey, and more

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Update: Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins to modify agency agreements in U.S.

Publishers Lunch reports that the three publishers opting to settle the antitrust lawsuit launched today by the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to drop the agency model for a period of two years. However, the report is quick to point out that the agency model is not dead, as other firms named in the lawsuit are choosing to fight the charges in court.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch offers analysis (subscription required):

While those three publishers will relinquish their agency models, agency itself will persist, since Macmillan has pledged to continue that pricing model, and one can infer that Penguin will continue with it as well. Which should allow those who adopted it later, such as Sourcebooks, to also continue to employ agency if they wish.

HarperCollins’ New York office has already released a statement on the matter, noting that the firm “did not violate any anti-trust laws” and that its “business terms and policies have been, and continue to be, designed to give readers the greatest choice of formats, features, value, platforms and partners – for both print and digital.”

The press release also describes the decision to settle as a “business decision” intended to “end a potentially protracted legal battle.”

[Updated at 1:08 p.m.] Publishers Lunch has updated its analysis of the settlement, pointing out that it “does not seem to require [Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins] to abandon the agency selling relationship itself.” The expanded report also notes that the Department of Justice “appears to have set up a system that will allow limited discounting of ebooks, so as to inhibit predatory loss-leader pricing of ebooks from the settling publishers.”

From Publishers Lunch:

They [i.e., the settling publishers] actually can “enter into Agency Agreements with E-book Retailers under which the aggregate dollar value of the price discounts or any other form of promotions to encourage consumers to purchase one or more of the Settling Defendant’s E-books (as opposed to advertising or promotions engaged in by the E-book Retailer not specifically tied or directed to the Settling Defendant’s E-books) is restricted.” But that restriction “shall not interfere with the e-book retailer’s ability to reduce the final price paid by consumers…by an aggregate amount equal to the total commissions the settling defendant pays to the e-book Retailer, over a period of at least one year, in connection with the sale of the Settling Defendant’s E-books to consumers.”

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