Something for your pocket?

So I had this outstanding invoice, the second and final payment on a book project for a medium-sized publishing house.  It was well past 90 days overdue.  My emails to the assigning editor were forwarded on the accounting department.  But I wasn’t gettting any response from the ‘accountant’ – my calls went unanswered, my emails not returned. 

Another week goes by and I decide I need to be a bit more proactive.  I call, and I call, and I call.  I leave messages with reception, I leave messages on the accountant’s voice mail, and I go ahead and phone the President and Publisher of the house and leave her a message detailing my frustrations.  A late-paying invoice, unfortunately, isn’t altogether uncommon these days, but the fact that I was being ignored was both unprofessional and annoying.  In addition to the call to the Publisher, I sent an email to eveyone I knew at the publishing house including the editorial director, the assigning editor, and the creative director.  Call it a cheap shot, but I let them know that I’d put that probing call into the Publisher.  I was, for the first time in my career, a bit worried I might not get paid….so I got serious.      

Less than an hour later I was contacted by both the accountatnt and the editorial director.  This entire publishing house is full of sweet, smart, and genuine people, but they’d dropped the ball with my invoice and my probing, and they excused themselves.   They tried to make it clear to me how they would fix things.  I’d be given a check number in two days.  And the check would release two days after that.  “What exactly has been the problem?,” I asked. 

The clearest response to my query was given to me by the Publisher of the house the next morning when she phoned to apologize for all the trouble.  I’d like to report on the highlights of this conversation because it helped me make sense out of everything I’d been hearing.  And it’s always helpful to know and understand the market news and how the trickle-down affects us…and our pockets. 

The Publisher detailed for me the history of AMS (Advanced Marketing Services), an entity that for over 20 years led the publishing industry in book wholesaling and distributing.  They were responsible for shipping over 100 million books each year.  AMS distributed books to the big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco as well as Amazon to name a few.  The technology AMS harnessed was able to capture book sales at every location, allowing the book publishers to track books and book stock in real time – a real plus to the warehouses and book publishers as they maximized their profits.  AMS also captured a propreitary system called ACUPAK – which allowed them to handle less-than-full cartons of materials/books.  AMS serviced hundreds of publishers thoughout the US and abroad.

But executive corruption plagued AMS as early as 2003.  Their funding by Wells Fargo was pulled in 2007 and they filed bankruptcy.    Baker + Taylor, another big name in book publishing, bought the assets of AMS and formed BTMS in late 2007.  The sale agreement has been tricky as both companies are fighting to moderate their cash flow.  The details and paperwork are still being untangled – millions of dollars is held up in this quagmire.  The bigger publishers have had a much easier time stomaching the holdup of $$ while the mid-size and small publishers are hurting.  Random House is rumored to have 10 million dollars in assets held up this mess and the small publisher I was dealing with had “100’s of thousands of dollars” they were waiting on.  BTMS is decidedly confident that everyone WILL reclaim their book stock and money.  Definitely.  But the quesiton of WHEN remains uncertain.

(Please note here that I have indeed been paid by this publisher and I don’t have ‘overdue’ invoices out anywhere else – seems most if not all of the affected publishers are making it work, somehow.)  

The Publisher, making light of this tough time during which she sees her house struggling to make timely payments, optomistically went on about other current issues hurting bookmakers:

  • Changing labor laws in China directly affect our cost of printing.  The changes, speaking from a human standpoint, are for the BEST, obviously, but they will drive printing costs up.
  • Natural disaster and increasing oil prices drive printing costs up as well.  The Publisher suggested a 30% increase in printing costs in 60 days this spring alone. 
  • Decreasing sales and restructuring at Borders weakens the market: smaller sales = less demand. 

So what does this all mean for all of us?  And how can freelancers help themselves in this tough publishing climate? 

Well, the Publisher I was speaking with went on about how it would take innovation and creativity on behalf of the book publishers to look for and create books that ‘make sense’ in the current market.  Books, perhaps, that could work on many different levels – interfacing with web platforms and social networks, for instance.  And, yes, these sorts of books just might call for an illustrator(s) that have experience in all areas of this ‘interface.’  Illustrators for these concepts are likely to require not only digital submissions but vector art creation, basic knowledge of web development, animation, etc.  Are you all ready for that?   

I’ve spoken with some illustrators who ARE very excited about growth in this new direction.  It IS exciting, new, and different and several publishing houses are setting precedents with their new projects – check out Scholastic’s 39 Clues, and Harper Collin’s  www.fourthstorymedia.com which is still gaining momentum.  There is plenty of artistic opportunity – albeit not altogether traditional artistic needs – in this emerging genre.  And that’s how I like to think of it, as a genre of children’s publishing.  

And welcoming this genre doesn’t mean that we’re closing the door on traditional picture books.  Just the other day my husband spoke to an editor at Harpers who said she was trying to bring back ‘the classics’ – whether in a new format with new illustrations or re-telling of the classics, either way, she thought kids were losing touch with those classic stories because of all the NEW licenced and branded characters they were being inundated with.  Hmmmm, what a concept!     

Additioanlly, in the past six months alone, I’ve seen a slew of new imprints make headlines – in the wake of the Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin merger, Allyn Johnston has started work on her own (as of yet unnamed) imprint at Simon & Schuster.  David Macaulay has been given his own collaborative “studio” with Roaring Brook Press.  Haper Collins has welcomed Donna Bray and Alessandra Balzar (from Hyperion) for a new imprint, “Balzar & Bray.”  And there’s more…Bowen Press (Brenda Bowen) at Harper Collins, growing lists for publishers like Sterling and FS&G.  This all means NEW titles and the need for picture book illustration.

The turbulence in children’s publishing – form AMS/BTMS to the restructuring, mergers, and layoffs we’ve seen over the past six months to a year (in both trade and educational publishing) – cannot be overlooked.  All combined, it IS making for a currently slow and uncertain market.  But what comes out of tough times – the new genres, the new topics of interest, revisiting how old stories are told – it’s all EXCITING.  And I encourage you all to embrace and think about this.  Let it fuel your work and your passion for this business. 

Optimistically Yours,

NT

 

Related Article (and better written!) that was pointed out to me just minutes after my blog post: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6570313.html  Proof that like rhetoric is circling. 

Children’s Book Trailer: CAPTAIN CHEECH

Well, I finally did it! I’ve recently been experimenting with music and video production software and I thought it would be fun to create a book trailer for my recent book CAPTAIN CHEECH. And it was a nothing but lots of fun! It took me about 15 hours to create (specially when you are learning new software) but it was ALL worth it!… I used Photoshop, GarageBand, iMovie and Keynote.

I kept going back to tweak it here and there, but I think it’s good enough for my first “homemade picture book trailer.” Amazing how much the trailer can pack in between visuals, sounds, and music.
So, here is the finished product (at least for now – hehe!)
Hope you Enjoy! 🙂
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

DaniJones.com Redesign

Hello everyone! I’ve just updated my website with a fresh look and some new artwork. Come on over and take a look… www.danijones.com

As a sidenote, if you run into problems or have issues with any of the features or navigation, please do let me know. I’m always tweaking stuff here and there.

Have a great day! – Dani

And speaking of reflections…

I’m about to admit something very embarrassing here. Recently, I’ve been feeling nostalgic. Maybe because I’m in my mid-40s, and I haven’t been home in awhile, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood. So I downloaded a bunch of music last night, stuff that was popular when I was a kid.

I grew up in the 70s and 80, and mostly listened to funk, soul and R&B music. But in Des Moines, during that time period, that kind of music wasn’t played on the radio stations. We had a record player at home (and an 8-track and later a cassette player), but for the most part, we were stuck with mainstream popular music, music that I really didn’t care for. Or so I thought. Here’s what I downloaded last night, and what I listened to all day, misty-eyed and homesick:

Barry Manilow
Pains me to admit, but I loved this music. Reminds me of when I used to go camping with my grandparents in their RV trailer. Those were the days. I miss my grandma.

The Bee Gees
This music brings back the days when I used to go to the Metro Disco, a teenage disco club. Must have been about 7th grade, such an awkward time. Even though I didn’t like to dance, I loved going to The Metro. Mostly to hang out on the sidelines with my friends and make fun of the serious disco dancers, John Travolta wannabe types.

Barry and Andy Gibb
Again, this music reminds me of the times I spent with my grandparents. My mom raised my brothers and I, but she was my grandma’s baby girl. So, we spent a lot of time with my grandparents.

Elton John
Painful music, painful time. Takes me back to my little league baseball days. I hated little league baseball. It was one of those things that, as a boy, I was supposed to do, that I didn’t want to do, but I did it because . . . well, I don’t know if there was any getting out of it. Many a day, my three brothers and I, and my mom, crammed into her old, beat up, VW bug and headed to the ballpark. Elton John on the radio.

Barbra Streisand
This music takes me back to the time when my parents split up. My mom didn’t work, she stayed at home and took care of us kids and our home. So when she and my dad split up, she had to learn a skill and get a job. She went to school and learned basic clerical work — short-hand, filing, how to take dictation. I was so proud of her.

I even downloaded some Celine Dion, which has noting to do with my childhood, but,  shhh, I’ve already given you enough fodder to last a lifetime of jokes.

*********
Edit to original post: The wife just caught me listening to my newly downloaded music, Barry Manilow’s Mandy. She had a good laugh. Apparently when she was growing up, her family actually had records for their record player, so they didn’t have to listen to the radio. She won’t admit to listening to Barry Manilow, but I’m sure she did. Curious she knows all the lyrics.

Reflections Of…The Way Life Used To Be

After months of, hats, gloves, and snow covered streets followed by quite a chilly spring season, the long-awaited sizzle of summer is upon us here in Cleveland.  And I couldn’t be more pleased.

The air conditioning units are back in the windows.  The ceiling fans have been dusted and turned on.  A few of my planted seeds are actually sprouting, and outdoor home and garden improvements are currently being debated.   

This is “Year 2” for us in our first home; a petite Queen Anne Victorian built way back in 1897.  The house is generally in good shape but still needs a lot of love and attention.  Our ‘project’ list has gotten seriously long and we have become very good friends with our plumber.  The work is never-ending, a labor of love, and though it has tried my patience over and over again, the home stands for everything we believe in – family, integrity, history, creativity, hard work, doing it right, originality, the American dream.  

Proudly, the Tugeau 2 Agency operates from the 3rd floor office, and much to our delight (and the delight of others) the business of children’s books thematically agrees with our purple and red dollhouse-like home.  The office bathroom was originally a crinoline closet!   But it’s so hot that the wood sweats up here in the summertime.  Somewhere near the bottom of our house project list, we have made a note to ‘install a central air system’ which will likely cost a small fortune, so, for now, I stick a bulky AC unit in the office window and crank the cold air.  The unit emits a constant medium-to-high-level din and it will isolate me not only from the heat and humidity, but from the sounds of summer – the rustle of trees, the mowers and blowers preening the neighborhood, and kids screaming by on their bikes.  It’s sort of like a hotel room without the bed or cheesy art prints. 

Yesterday was our first real taste of summer – 89 degrees and soupy.  We had the air conditioner in the window and on full blast by 9:30am.  As I went about my day in the office, I was happy and comfortable in the cool air, but constantly fighting a sentimental urge.  There was something about the light, the heat, and the artificial coolness that made me yearn for a day from the past.   

I wanted to call my friends, meet on bikes at the corner, ride to the pool, enjoy hours on beach towels laid out on the concrete deck (kids weren’t allowed to use the lounge chairs) put on pink lip gloss and tons of coconut smelling tanning lotion, and read teeny bopper magazines in between swimming in the deep end a reading a few paragraphs our required summer reading (Pygmalion?).  And I wanted to spend some time spinning wildly and laughing on the carousel of the pool playground, next to the bike rack, while listening to the sounds of tennis being played on the nearby city courts.  I wanted to get back on our bikes, stop for a slice of Little Ceasar’s pizza, and shout nonchalant goodbyes to each girl as she rode in a different direction home.  I wanted to enter the back door of my family’s home, sunkissed and exhausted, hair still damp, go down into the cool cool basesment of my youth, plop down on the couch covered in thin worn gingham fabric and close my eyes.  No anxiety about project lists or resurfacing the driveway, no knowing the plumber’s phone number by heart, no seedlings to care for, no business to run, no work at all…only the quiet and peaceful end to a perfect summer’s day.

I came out of my daydream, though a bit reluctantly, and went back to paying our first-of-the-month bills with a smile.   

Welcome to Summer, everyone.  May it be filled with lots of enjoyable work and fond memories!

 

NT