Monthly Archives: November 2011

Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour

30 November 2011

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Vivien Jennings had long noted the people fidgeting in their chairs, staring at their watches, playing with their smartphones—the silent scream of “when will this be over?”—as novelists, memoirists and historians stood behind a lectern and read a chapter or three from their latest work.

“We were just losing our audiences,” said Ms. Jennings, the owner of Rainy Day Books, an independent bookstore in Kansas City, Kan. Finally, several years ago she made a decision: The shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a minilecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and—at most—the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point. “I tell publicists ‘it’s no longer a reading,’” Ms. Jennings said. “If they want their authors to come here, they’ll go along with it.”

For decades, the bookstore reading was a given. It gave fans a chance to hear the cadences and inflections of a beloved author, and to decide if they wanted to lay down their plastic right then and there or maybe wait for the paperback. “When I first started, it was readings, readings, readings. Nobody considered that you could do anything else,” said Evan Boorstyn, the deputy director of publicity at Grand Central Publishing.

. . . .

Americans’ ever-shrinking attention span and an ever-shrinking number of leisure hours are also issues. “We’re asking for people’s time and we’re competing with other experiences they could use the time for. We want them to leave the event saying ‘wow,’” said Ms. Jennings, who’d like to say something similar when she looks at the cash register receipts after one of these events. One recent example: a visit from Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who spoke about the foster-care system—a theme of her debut novel, “The Language of Flowers”—and who gave a PowerPoint presentation about the significance of particular nosegays in the Victorian era.

. . . .

For his part, Brad Meltzer, the best-selling author of thrillers like “The Book of Fate” and “The Book of Lies,” stopped doing readings two books ago. “Jim Dale,” he said, referring to the voice of the “Harry Potter” audio books, “and all the audio-book stars made most of us authors look like a bunch of misfits. We can’t compete.” Mr. Meltzer instead regales crowds with background stories about his books, with tales of the 24 rejection letters he received at the beginning of his career and film clips of him folding his arms in assorted tough guy poses from his History Channel series, “Decoded.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire after a few days) and thanks to Abel for the tip.

Having suffered through about two trillion lame Powerpoint presentations, Passive Guy has his doubts about their attractiveness for today’s audiences. (Is there anyone outside of the publishing world who thinks they’re innovative?)

Unless someone is paying him to sit through a presentation, about three seconds after he begins fidgeting in his chair, staring at his watch or playing with his smartphone, he exits the premises.

The secret of getting ahead

30 November 2011

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Agatha Christie

My Tablet is Killing My Eyes

30 November 2011

From Ebook Friendly:

For many users the screen is a major reason to choose an ereader over a tablet. I’ve already prepared a visual comparison of the screens (epaper for ereader and LCD for tablet), with a focus to clearly show a difference.

It’s stunning to hear definite opinions of some people who say “tablet screen is killing my eyes” or “I will never read a word on it”. Sounds more like an excuse to watch videos or play games than read anything on a device they already own.

Ereader vs tablet screens explained

Link to the rest at Ebook Friendly

The well-made bed: an unappreciated public health risk

30 November 2011

A lovely send-up of academic writing from the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

One little appreciated public health danger lurks in the nation’s bedrooms; more specifically, in the nation’s beds. We wish to draw attention to the hazardous habit of bedmaking, pandemic in North America. Not only is this recently evolved practice unhygienic, the mechanics of straightening the corners and fluffing the pillows is physically injurious and adversely affects the mental well-being of our population.

. . . .

Given warmth, darkness and a smorgasbord of delectable bodily fluids, it is not surprising that the well-made bed (Fig. 1) is a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, fungi and other vermin. Cultures of bed sheets have grown a variety of pathogens, including Yersinisa plainstainus and Strip.bucknakedus. Unaired blankets also serve as fomites for blood-sucking parasites; indeed, half the weight of a downfilled comforter may consist of dead dust mites and their tiny droppings. Hotel chambermaids are known to suffer from “bed maker’s lung,” a form of allergic alveolitis caused by repeated exposure to dust mite feces.

In addition to the microbiological concerns, the very act of making a bed can adversely affect one’s health. Most beds are low to the floor, and their attention requires constant lumbar flexion, predisposing to chronic low-back pain. Repetitive strain injuries, such as “sheet turner’s wrist” and “pillow fluffer’s shoulder,” occur in hospitality industry workers.

. . . .

Contrast these problems to the state of near Nirvana that exists with the unmade bed (Fig. 2). It is commonly known that bacteria, like vampires, wither when exposed to sunlight, leaving sanitary and fresh-smelling beds. The patient can arise in the morning knowing there is one less task to perform in a busy day. (Time saved: 5 minutes for the task, preceded by 10 minutes of arguing over whose turn it is to make the bed, multiplied by 365 days a year over an average life expectancy of 78 years, for a total of over 9 months or nearly 1% of our lifetimes.)

. . . .

In summary, bed-making is a hidden pandemic that exacts a huge toll on the physical and mental health of our population. We demand that the federal government enforce an immediate nation-wide ban on bed-making. We encourage all physicians to screen for bed-making as part of the periodic health examination and to offer counselling for the cessation of this unhealthy practice.

Link to the rest at the Canadian Medical Association Journal

Amazon sold more than four times as many Kindles on Black Friday last week as the same shopping day in 2010

30 November 2011

From the Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. on Monday trumpeted the success of its recently launched Kindle Fire tablet, part of a family of Kindle products that include low-priced e-readers. The company said it sold more than four times as many Kindle products on Black Friday last week as the same shopping day in 2010.

The Seattle-based online retailer declined to provide precise figures, other than to say it had sold “millions” of its recently released Kindle tablets and e-readers even before the holiday shopping week, adding that the Fire, released this month and the first Kindle product with a color screen, has been its best-selling item for eight weeks.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire after a few days)

Many of you will recall the explosion of ebook sales that took place around Christmas in 2010 as new Kindle owners bought books to read on their new Kindles.

It looks like an even bigger payday for authors is in the offing this year.

Passive Guy says yay.

“Always” is a relative term; it means a period of time greater than the imagination of the person who utters it

30 November 2011

From consultant Joseph Esposito on The Scholarly Kitchen, a blog sponsored by Society for Scholarly Publishing:

 [L]et’s spend a minute on the life and times of Borders, which is an amazing tale. One way to look at the demise of Borders is as perhaps the loudest signal to date that the disruptive forces now penetrating every corner of the publishing industry are not waiting for some far-off time before they take their place at center stage. Up until now, to a very great extent disruptive technology has been domesticated.  This is the case with research journals, for example, which are largely dominated in electronic form by the very same publishers that dominated the game when it was all print.  And of course we have all been treated many times to interviews with luminaries, whether industry figures or authors or even the occasional celebrity who simply must offer an opinion on every topic, who pronounce that “there will always be print.” Yeah, right. In fact we have known all along that this play will come to the end: at some point the hero of print will fall on his sword and the digital demon will step forward, proclaim the new era, and invite us all to download a copy of Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity.

But Borders! That’s a hard one to ignore. In one stroke over 500 retail outlets disappeared, which, even at the end, still comprised over 10% of U.S. trade book sales and a significant percentage of the sales of even scholarly publishers. It was not so long ago that Borders’ market share was double that; combine that figure with Barnes & Noble’s 30% (some put that figure lower), and you had one-half of the U.S. trade business. (Amazon, at 12-15% was the number 3 player.)

. . . .

But the lesson of Borders is not about the advent of new businesses and threats; nor is it about the many mistakes made by the Borders management, so many that you can only shake your head in wonder. . . . The real thing to take from Borders’ collapse is that the old infrastructure will not always be there. In one stroke trade publishers lost a huge chunk of their distribution network. That network was not simply sitting around patiently, waiting for publishers to get their digital game plan ready. The distribution network collapsed before the publishers were ready and suddenly unleashed a number of forces for which no publisher was truly prepared. Consider what it now means to operate in an environment dominated by Amazon: the #2 distribution channel for trade books and #1 for most academic titles; a company with over 50% of the rapidly growing ebook market; a leading purveyor of used books; and now a publisher as well, originating titles in direct competition with its primary vendors. Borders provided a bulwark to at least some of Amazon’s advances, but now no more.

I began thinking about this subject in earnest recently when I overheard a publisher remark that his company could “always” outsource its physical distribution. Always? At this time there are many options for the physical distribution of books, but the heads of these operations are mindful that the secular trend is not on their side.  With ebooks now comprising about 20% of all trade books (the figure is under 5% for scholarly titles, though some academic publishers are approaching double digits), how long will a warehouse be a desirable asset? And to what destination would such a warehouse be shipping books? To the rapidly dwindling number of bookstores? To the libraries whose budgets are under pressure and that give higher priority to serials? “Always” is a relative term; it means a period of time greater than the imagination of the person who utters it.

. . . .

There is a vicious cycle when it comes to declining utilization of a legacy business. For example, by some reports, the growth of ebooks plus the decline of physical bookstores has led book publishers to reduce the print runs of trade paperback titles by 30%. This means that the unit cost of each copy rises because of the loss of scale.  Higher manufacturing costs lead to higher retail prices, which lead to more defections to ebooks, which lead to reduced print runs, and so on. This would not be so bad if it were not for the fact that Amazon’s giant maw is thus positioned to gobble up even more market share — which will put pressure on publishers’ margins, making them less competitive to bid for first-rate authors — a bidding war that now includes Amazon. I have never before seen any company as brilliantly positioned as Amazon. It’s as though Atlas held the world on his shoulders and decided to tip it in the direction of Seattle.

The reason to be mindful of the ecosystem that supports a print or legacy business is that those businesses serve, as it were, as venture capital for the new all-digital businesses that all publishers are contemplating.  How do you finance the creation of a new set of interactive apps or a new semantic search technology or the architecture to support linked data? For most publishers, the answer is that you redirect some of the cash flow from the legacy businesses into the new businesses.

. . . .

It’s a sobering thought to think that the primary business relationships an organization has today may not be relevant in even a few years.  That printer, that wholesaler — even the conversion houses: they may all find the next few years to be tough sledding. And if they cannot navigate themselves to a profitable future, how will this affect your business?

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen and thanks to the tip from M. Louisa Locke.

Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List

29 November 2011

For new visitors, Passive Guy sometimes posts items with which he doesn’t agree. It’s his way to avoid the dangers of an echo chamber.

From fiction writer and instructor Edan Lepucki:

In a previous essay, I interviewed four self-published authors I admire, and I examined some of the benefits of that career path. Midway through writing the piece, I realized I’d have to continue the discussion in a second essay in order to fully explore my feelings (complicated) on the topic (multifaceted). You see, Reader, I still don’t plan on self-publishing my first novel, though I don’t deny the positive aspects of that choice.

Below I’ve outlined a few reasons behind my decision, informed by our contemporary moment. I can’t predict the future, though I’m sure I’ll remain comfortable with my opinions for at least another thirteen months. It’s in a list format, the pet genre of the blogosphere. How else was I to keep my head from imploding?

1. I Guess I’m Not a Hater
People love to talk about how traditional publishing is dying, but is that actually true? According to The New York Times, the industry has seen a 5.8% increase in net revenue since 2008. E-books are “another bright spot” in the industry, and the revenue of adult fiction grew by 8.8% in three years. (Take that, Twilight!)

. . . .

2. I Write Literary Fiction
Before you get your talons out, let me clarify: I don’t consider literary fiction superior to other kinds of fiction, just different; to me, it’s simply another genre, subject-wise and/or marketing-wise. Many of the writers who have found success in self-publishing are writers of straightforward genre fiction. Amanda Hocking writes young adult fantasy, dwarfs and all. Valerie Forster, who published traditionally before setting out on her own, writes legal thrillers. Romance, too, often does just fine without a publisher. Aside from Anthropology of An American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, I can’t think of another literary novel that enjoyed critical praise and healthy sales when self-published. That’s not to say that it can’t — and shouldn’t — happen, it’s only to point out that it’s a tougher road for writers of certain sorts of stories. Readers like me aren’t seeking out self-published books. Why not? That’s for another essay. (Please, can someone else write that one?) Until the likes of  Jeffrey Eugenides and Alice Munro begin publishing their work via CreateSpace, I don’t see the landscape for literary fiction changing anytime soon.

3. I’d Prefer a Small Press to a Vanity Press
The conversation about self-publishing too often ignores the role of independent publishing houses in this shifting reading landscape. Whether it be larger independents like Algonquin and Graywolf, or small gems like Featherproof and Two Dollar Radio, or university presses like Lookout Books, the imprint at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, which recently published Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (nominated for this year’s National Book Award), independent presses offer diversity to readers, and provide yet another professional option for authors. These presses are run and curated by well-read, talented people, and they provide readers with the same services that a large press provides: namely, a vote of confidence in a writer the public might have never heard of. Smaller presses, too, enjoy a specificity of brand and identity that too often eludes a larger house.

. . . .

4. Self-Publishing is Better for the Already-Published
Perhaps the smarter, and far more seductive, path is the one where the writer begins his career with a traditional publisher, and then, once he’s built a base of loyal readers, sets off on his own. The man who loves to talk smack about the publishing industry, J.A. Konrath, already had an audience from his traditionally-published books by the time he decided to take matters into his own hands. It’s much harder to create a readership out of nothing.

. . . .

5. I Value the Publishing Community
I decided to ask the most famous writer I know, Peter Straub, if he’s ever considered leaving the world of big publishing and putting out a book all by his lonesome. After all, he’s a bestselling author and editor of more than 25 books (18 novels alone!), and he’s a horror writer beloved by genre geeks and snobby literary types alike. A few of his fans probably sport tattoos of his bespectacled face on their pecs. (Or: Peter Straub tramp stamps! Yes!) In an email response, Straub acknowledged how quickly the publishing world and our reading habits are changing, and he said he just might experiment with self-publishing short fiction in the coming years. He told me:

True self-publication means writers upload content themselves, and plenty already do it. I’m not quite sure how you then publicize the work in question, or get it reviewed, but that I am unsure about these elements is part of the reason I seek always, at least for the present, to have my work published in book form by an old-style trade publisher. The trade publisher, which has contracted for the right to do so, then brings the book out in e-form and as an audiobook, so I am not ignoring that audience.

What he went on to say gave me a special kind of hope:

Most of the editors I have worked with over the past thirty-five years have made crucial contributions to the books entrusted to them, and the copy-editors have always, in every case, done exactly the same. They have enriched the books that came into their hands. Can you have good, thoughtful, creative editing and precise, accurate, immaculate copy-editing if you self-publish? And if you can’t, what is being said about the status or role of selflessness before the final form of the fiction as accepted by the audience, I mean the willingness of the author to submerge his ego to produce the novel that is truest to itself?

6. The E-Reading Conundrum; or, I don’t want to be Amazon’s Bitch
Many self-published authors have gone totally electronic, eschewing print versions of their work altogether. I can’t see myself taking that route, however, because I don’t own an e-reader, and I don’t have plans to buy one (not yet, anyway… I read a lot in the bath, etc., etc.). It seems odd that I wouldn’t be able to buy my own book — I mean, shouldn’t I be my own ideal reader? I also prefer to shop at independent bookstores, and in fact, I pay full price for my books all the time. The thought of Amazon being the only place to purchase my novel shivers my timbers. I don’t mind if someone else chooses to read my work electronically, just as I don’t mind if Amazon is oneof the places to purchase my work; I’m simply wary of Amazon monopolizing the reading landscape. Self-publishing has certainly offered an alternative path for writers, but it’s naive to believe that a self-published author is “fighting the system” if that self-published book is produced and made available by a single monolithic corporation. In effect, they’ve rejected “The Big 6″ for “The Big 1.”

7. Is it Best for Readers?
In September, when my brother-in-law learned that my book still hadn’t sold, he said, “Please don’t self-publish!” He was actually wincing. If I did self-publish, he said, he’d buy it because we were family, but otherwise, he’d happily ignore my novel in search of something he’d read about on The Millions, or heard about on NPR, or had a friend recommend. There are simply too many books out there as it is.

. . . .

As a member of the reading public, I am not prepared, or willing, to wade through all that unfiltered literature. As a writer, I must put my head back to the grindstone and write a book that more than a handful of readers can fall in love with.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG will not comment on Ms. Lepucki’s thoughts. He knows other, better, commenters will provide insight and perspective.

Any woman can fool a man

29 November 2011

Any woman can fool a man if she wants to and if he’s in love with her.

Agatha Christie

The End of an Indie Publisher

29 November 2011

About a year ago, internet guru and bestselling author Seth Godin announced the Domino Project, a new-model indie publisher “powered by Amazon.”

Today, he announced that the Domino Project is ending after publishing its 12th book.

Excerpts from Seth’s blog:

By most of the measures I set out at the beginning, the project has been a success. So why stop? Mostly because it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever.

The goal was to explore what could be done in a fast-changing environment. Rather than whining about the loss of the status quo, I thought it would be interesting to help invent a new status quo and learn some things along the way. Here are a few of my takeaways:

. . . .

2. The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years. It’s hard for me to see significant ways traditional book publishers can add the value they’re used to adding when it comes to marketing ebooks, unless they get busy with #1. [#1 is Permission Marketing]

3. Booksellers have a starfish problem. Without permission (see #1) it’s almost impossible for a publisher to be heard above the noise, largely because long tail merchants haven’t built the promotional tools traditional retailers have long used to highlight one title over another. You used to be able to buy useful and efficient shelf space at a retailer. Hard to do that now.

. . . .

6. Sponsored ebooks [a la Kickstarter] are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. I’m proud to have pioneered this, and I think it’s a trend worth pursuing. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.

7. The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built, that will. Ebooks are way too hard to give as gifts and to share. Too hard to integrate into social media. And the ebook reader is a lousy platform for discovery and promotion of new titles (what a missed chance). All that will happen, the road map is there, but it’s going to take commitment from Apple, B&N and Amazon.

8. If you’re an author, pick yourself. Don’t wait for a publisher to pick you. And if you work for a big publishing house, think really hard about the economics of starting your own permission-based ebook publisher. Now’s the time.

Link to the rest at Seth Godin’s Blog

UK Indie Bestseller is Back Up on Amazon

29 November 2011

Yesterday, Passive Guy wrote about the difficulties the authors of a bestselling novel, titled Sugar and Spice,  on Amazon UK were having after their book was taken down for 18 days.

PG has received an email from one of the authors informing him that the book has reappeared. When PG checked, he found it not once, but two different places on Amazon UK – here and here. PG understands the second version, subtitled “American edition” was published after the first version vanished.

It appears the initial UK edition has returned with most or all of its reviews (241) intact. Its sales rank is 753 overall and 21 and 25 on two different police procedural lists, so the time it was down has significantly impacted sales rank.

Based on the information PG has received, the disappearance appears to have been the result of an Amazon glitch rather than any actions the authors took to market the book via subtitles or otherwise.

 

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