Monthly Archives: September 2017

What the (New) Book People Won’t Tell You: There Will Always be Publishers

28 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

A couple weeks back I got on a tear about things Book People won’t say, including that B&N has been doomed by its senior and digital is killing print.

Today I would like to turn it around and share something that isn’t said enough in self-publishing circles.

There will always be book publishers.

It is axiomatic in certain circles that in 2017 that authors have all the power.  Authors can hire they help they need and take their work direct to market, thus removing any need for a publisher.

While all of that is true, it does not automatically follow that book publishers are going the way of the dodo.

One detail that is often overlooked is that not all authors are equally imbued with the business skills – or the interest – required to publish their work and maximize revenues. There will always be some author who would rather focus on writing and hire someone else to do the packaging and selling.

. . . .

So yes, ten years from now we’re going to be able to point to something and call it a publisher. We’re probably going to even have many of the same names then as now – after all, there is value in a publishing brand – but that’s no guarantee that the future publishers will be the corporate descendants of the present publishers.

In the same way that the major publishers have killed themselves by ignoring ebooks, other publishers are rendering themselves irrelevant by refusing to adapt to the times.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says Nate makes some good points.

A great many authors hire editors to help polish their manuscripts. A great many authors also hire cover designers and book/ebook formatting services.

Professional editors, designers, etc., tend to be service-oriented. If they don’t understand at the outset of their careers, they soon learn that, in addition to their skills at editing and design, they need to pay attention to their clients if they want to keep editing and designing.

Given the attitude of so many contemporary publishers toward authors, the question is whether employees or former employees will be capable of making the complete turnabout required to become service professionals. Some will, but PG suspects most won’t.

Additionally, a lot of the things publishers are good at won’t be necessary any more.

PG is not among those who believe that readers will always want printed books.

Due to his antiquity, PG remembers when serious music lovers were completely committed to their record collections, carefully preserving them and proudly showing pristine album covers to any who entered their listening abode. When CD’s were first introduced, serious listeners were aghast at the harsh quality of sound produced by early CD’s.

Of course, streaming music has even poorer sound quality than CD’s, but listeners seem to have adapted. Do major musicians release their music only on vinyl records? PG doesn’t follow that sort of thing, but he doubts they do.

PG is happy to have people listening to the sounds via the media they like best, but from a commercial standpoint, are any large music publishers staking their revenues on vinyl?

Some readers will continue to like printed books, but their numbers are already declining and will continue to do so.

One of the keys to low print prices are large print runs. 100,000 printed books cost much less on a per-book basis than 1,000 books. Mass production delivers the best prices when you can set up the machines and let them run for awhile.

Publishers are striving mightily to keep the prices of their ebooks close to the prices of their printed books, but that’s bound to be a failed strategy. For one thing, the accountants at the holding companies that own all major US publishers will complain about the wide divergence in profitability between ebooks and printed books.

Why would any sane business person spend a lot of money to print thousands of books that may never be sold, then pay storage and transportation costs for those books and finally pay someone to dispose of the unsold print books when, for almost nothing, the publisher can send a single electronic copy of an ebook to various vendors and watch deposits come into its bank accounts?

What reality-based business would not prioritize selling products with no production costs over selling products with high production costs?

What’s going to happen to Barnes & Noble?

Let’s answer a question with a question: What happened to Blockbuster Music, Camelot Music, Mediaplay, Music+, Musicland, Music Play, SamGoody, Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, Wherehouse Music, and a zillion other music chains?

Why I Prefer Baseball

28 September 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

We’ve arrived at a moment when some choices have to be made. After a lifetime watching America’s three main professional sports—baseball, football and basketball—I’ve decided I prefer baseball.

Starting Tuesday, I’ll exclusively devote what’s left of my sports-viewing budget to the Major League Baseball playoffs. And not just in the hope that my hometown Cleveland Indians will overcome last year’s heartbreaking loss for the ages to the Chicago Cubs.

Set to one side that the reason most Americans can sing the words to their national anthem is that for generations, every American attending a professional baseball game has stood to look at the flag while someone sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many Americans think the last words of the national anthem are “Play ball!”

Baseball is about baseball. The NFL and NBA seem to be about more things than I can process—some of them political, some of them personal.

Baseball has an informal code of on-field conduct, which has held for a hundred years. The NFL doesn’t seem to have an enforceable code of anything.

. . . .

From Babe Ruth 90 years ago to Aaron Judge now, when you hit a home run, you run around the bases and into the dugout. That’s it. No end-zone antics that suggest the sport itself takes a back seat to a personality.

After the Yankees’ Mr. Judge hit his 50th home run this week, a record for a rookie, his teammates had to force him out of the dugout to wave to the cheering crowd.

. . . .

Sportswriters sometimes use the phrase “lunch bucket” about a player who is mainly interested in doing his job well without drawing attention to himself. Other than someone like Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, you don’t see too many stars in the NFL or NBA described as lunch-bucket guys anymore.

Most future stars of basketball and football are identified while they’re in high school. They often play in special leagues and receive constant visits from coaches at Division I universities.

Once inside the university, these players live and practice in gold-plated facilities. They play on national TV and are talked about nonstop by analysts and the political commentators at ESPN. They get famous young. (Though let it be said, 90% of the non-sports NFL and NBA news was made by maybe 10% of the players, until now.)

The road up in baseball is different. Promising teenagers go from high school into baseball’s minor leagues. They play for teams in places like Delmarva, Clinton and Greenville. They travel by bus and play before crowds not much bigger than what they had in Little League. They rise from A ball to AA (say, the Trenton Thunder) then AAA teams, which are in places most people have heard of, like Toledo, Fresno or El Paso.

Years spent competing and surviving against other skilled players teaches them they have to learn to be a member of a team before anyone calls them a star.

Some might say baseball isn’t political because so many players are from Latin America. But maybe the Latin players are mostly bemused at what the U.S. considers social problems, compared with escaping from Cuba across shark-infested waters or getting out of a dirt-road slum in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.

There is an expression in sports: Don’t leave it in the locker room. It means you are supposed to save your best performance for the game. With baseball, that’s still what you get.

We live in a highly polarized country. If people want their sport and its performers to be an affirmation of their politics, feel free. I don’t.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

To stay in Mrs. PG’s good graces, PG should note that The Chicago Cubs clinched a spot in baseball’s post-season competition yesterday.

Even regular visitors to TPV who are not baseball fans will likely still remember the Cubs won the World Series last year, after a 108 year drought. See here, here and here.

Since Mrs. PG is a Cubs fan, she knows that two World Series wins in a row are probably more than she should expect. Besides, staying faithful through long droughts of post-season success are what develop the unflinching and stoic character for which Cubs fans are known.

Too much success in a short period of time might undermine Chicago’s character and transform its citizens into Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees fans. A worse fate cannot be imagined. Chicago would be ruined.

Amazon Introduces a New Echo

28 September 2017

Amazon has introduced Echo (2nd Generation) and will be releasing it on October 31.

It’s cheaper ($99 for some models) than the initial Echo and physically shorter. Amazon says it includes improved sound powered by Dolby. It also comes in different colors/finishes.

You can pre-order now. Cursor down at the link for lots of additional information, video, photos, etc.

Amazon is also introducing a new Echo Plus that includes a built-in smart-home hub and smart lightbulb. It looks like the original Echo.

For PG, the most interesting of the new Echo devices is the Echo Spot for $129. It has a small built-in video screen and, from the photos, looks like it’s about the size of a grapefruit. It does all the standard Echo stuff plus you can use it for video calls to other people with Echo screen devices and watch a selection of videos that Amazon will make available.


28 September 2017

Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.

Yogi Berra

When I’m Writing Fiction, I Cannot Read It

28 September 2017

From The Literary Hub:

As a child, books were your refuge. The entirety of book-world was your tribe. The March family taught you morals; Anne of Green Gables, especially if you were like me, an unruly kid with reddish braids, gave you hope. Maybe Brian Robeson in Hatchet made you believe you could survive anything. The Lord of the Flies let you know that you wouldn’t.

As you grew older, you discovered new books and new ways to learn from them, but that profound connection you feel with them never left you.

What, though, if the joy did?

For life-long bookworms, as many novelists are, becoming a published author is a dream come true. Or perhaps more accurately, a long-awaited arrival. You enter the heart of the tribe.

. . . .

But what if becoming a published novelist was to rob the pleasure that inspired it? What if it was to hamper the act or, worse still, joy of reading?

My second novel, Shining Sea, came out in paperback last month. In the year between the hardcover release and the paperback, I was involved in promoting the novel, wrote a number of short and long-form nonfiction articles and op-eds, wrote some politically oriented speeches, and began researching and making notes for a new novel.

I also read like a coyote loose among sheep. I devoured new releases, explored and fell in love with a whole new (for me) genre, and consumed huge chunks out of my to-be-read pile. I re-read every book I own by Willa Cather, which is pretty much every book by Willa Cather. I consumed any book of fiction or creative nonfiction related to Uganda that I could get my hands on. I strode into bookstores and strolled back out with books recommended by the bookseller. I always am startled when, at the end of the year, I tally my book-buying costs. This year I may need to down a glass of wine first.

In October, after a final loop through California, all of my scheduled book touring for Shining Sea will be done. As much as I enjoy visiting bookstores and meeting readers, I look forward to settling down to the nitty-gritty of my new novel, closing my office door to the world, and turning the notes and random pages and research I’ve amassed over the past year into a carefully crafted whole.

Does this mean my greedy fiction-reading streak will have to end?

. . . .

Kelly Simmons, author of One More Day and the forthcoming Fourth of July, says, “[W]hen I’m writing I can’t tolerate what others might call a guilty pleasure. I’m worried it might seep in!”

I also shy away from reading other people’s fiction when I’m in the thick of writing a new novel. I have to read daily, especially before I go to sleep at night. The idea of not doing so is impossible; I might as well go on a fast—something you would never catch me doing. But while I’m developing the voice of a book, I don’t want to hear someone else’s fiction cadences.

. . . .

The irony! Doing the job I love, although intimately connected to the pastime I love, clearly also interferes with it.

Some novelists do read other people’s fiction while they write. “I always read, even when I am in the thick of my own work,” Marcy Dermansky, author most recently of The Red Car says, “because I need to be reading. It would be too bleak not to be reading; it takes a long time to write a novel.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The History of Sears Predicts Nearly Everything Amazon Is Doing

28 September 2017

From The Atlantic:

Amazon comes to conquer brick-and-mortar retail, not to bury it. In the last two years, the company has opened 11 physical bookstores. This summer, it bought Whole Foods and its 400 grocery locations. And last week, the company announced a partnership with Kohl’s to allow returns at the physical retailer’s stores.

Why is Amazon looking more and more like an old-fashioned retailer? The company’s do-it-all corporate strategy adheres to a familiar playbook — that of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Sears might seem like a zombie today, but it’s easy to forget how transformative the company was exactly 100 years ago, when it, too, was capitalizing on a mail-to-consumer business to establish a physical retail presence.

. . . .

Mail was an internet before the internet. After the Civil War, several new communications and transportations systems — the telegraph, rail, and parcel delivery — made it possible to shop at home and have items delivered to your door. Americans browsed catalogues on their couches for jewelry, food, and books. Merchants sent the parcels by rail.

From its founding in the late 19th century to its world-famous catalog, the history of Sears, Roebuck & Company is well known. Less storied is its magnificently successful transition from a mailing company to a brick-and-mortar giant. Like Amazon among its online-shopping rivals, Sears was not the country’s first mail-order retailer, but it became the largest of its kind. Like Amazon, it started with a single product category — watches, rather than books. But, like Amazon, the company grew to include a range of products, including guns, gramophones, cars, and even groceries.

From the start, Sears’s genius was to market itself to consumers as an everything store, with an unrivaled range of products, often sold for minuscule profits. The company’s feel for consumer demand was so uncanny, and its operations so efficient, that it became, for many of its diehard customers, not just the best retail option, but the only one worth considering.

By building a large base of fiercely loyal consumers, Sears was able to buy more cheaply from manufacturers and wholesalers. It managed its deluge of orders with massive warehouses, like its central facility in Chicago, in which messages to various departments and assembly workers were sent through pneumatic tubes. In the decade between 1895 and 1905, Sears’s revenue grew by a factor of 50, from about $750,000 to about $38 million, according to Alfred D. Chandler Jr.’s 1977 book The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. (By comparison, in the last decade, Amazon’s revenue has grown by a factor of 10.)

Then, after one of the most successful half-centuries in U.S. corporate history, Sears did something really crazy. It opened a store.

In the early 1920s, Sears found itself in an economy that was coming off a harsh post-World War recession, according to Daniel M. G. Graff and Peter Temin’s essay “Sears, Roebuck in the Twentieth Century.” The company was also dealing with a more lasting challenge: the rise of chain stores. To guide their corporate makeover, the company tapped a retired World War I general named Robert Wood, who turned to the U.S. Census and Statistical Abstract of the United States as a fount of marketing wisdom. In federally tabulated figures, he saw the country moving from farm to city, and then from city to suburb. His plan: Follow them with stores.

. . . .

Sears was not content to be a one-stop-shop for durable goods. Like Amazon today, the company used its position to enter adjacent businesses. To supplement its huge auto-parts business, Sears started selling car insurance under the Allstate brand. One might say the shift from selling products to services is analogous to the creation of Amazon Web Services—or even Amazon’s television shows. Analysts have wondered, why would Amazon want to sell books, diapers, and TV? But even the company’s seemingly eccentric decisions are centered on Sears’s old expertise: becoming an inextricable part of consumers’ lives.

It’s remarkable how Sears’s rise anticipates Amazon’s. The growth of both companies was the result of a focus on operations efficiency, low prices, and a keen eye on the future of American demographics.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic


28 September 2017

Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel.

Back in the Saddle

28 September 2017

PG has returned after a quick trip with Mrs. PG to visit Mrs. PG’s sister, Beth, who is suffering from early-onset ‎Alzheimer’s disease.

It was a difficult trip for both of us, but we’re glad we made the visit. It is likely the last time we will see Beth alive.

PG is happy to be back at the controls of that complex and meticulously-honed system that is The Passive Voice.

The secret to Amazon’s success? It’s constantly trying new things

27 September 2017

From TeleRead:

Quora is a fun and interesting tool sometimes. It’s kind of neat to see what sorts of things people might ask (though, admittedly, about 95% of the questions are completely banal), or what they might say in answer to your questions.

But sometimes a question on Quora can serve as a writing prompt to get you thinking. For example, my answer to someone asking “Why doesn’t Barnes and Noble have something similar to Kindle Unlimited for Nook?”

As I note in my answer, the better question might not be so much why Barnes & Noble didn’t, but why Amazon did. And that led to me recalling all the other things Amazon did.

. . . .

Remember how Amazon began? It was a simple little bookstore site devoted to the proposition of selling paper books, just like your average Waldenbooks, Borders, or Barnes & Noble, but doing it over the Internet.

That’s all Amazon was, and all Amazon did, in the beginning. It was a store where you could buy physical goods over the Internet—like about a zillion other stores back in the day. It wasn’t even the only Internet bookstore! For the longest time, I only ordered books from Books a Million (I had a loyalty club membership and everything), because I had been annoyed at some obnoxious thing or other Amazon had done, so long ago that I can’t even remember what it was now, and had the foolish notion that my “boycott” of Amazon might have some effect.

. . . .

But what put Amazon out in front of all the rest of them? Well, just look at everything Amazon is and does now. An expanded merchandise selection beyond (way beyond) books. The Kindle. Kindle Desktop Publishing. Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime Now.Amazon Music. Amazon Streaming Video. The Kindle Owners Lending Library. Kindle Unlimited. The Fire Tablet. The Amazon Echo. Sunday mail delivery. Amazon Dash buttons. And on. And on. Every single one of those things was, at one time, something completely new Amazon was trying, and had its share of skeptics. And yet, all of those things have stuck around, so far.

And that’s the secret, really. Since it started acquiring the cash flow to end all cash flows. Amazon has never rested on its laurels.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Author Blogging 102: a Practical Guide to Developing Your Weekly or Monthly Link Post

27 September 2017
Comments Off on Author Blogging 102: a Practical Guide to Developing Your Weekly or Monthly Link Post

From The Digital Reader:

Content curation (or as I prefer to call it, “link posts”) is a great way for authors to help both their readers and other writers by one, pointing readers articles worth reading, and two, giving other writers public kudos by including their work in a post.

. . . .

I’ve ben doing this so long that I have developed hard and fast rules on what should and should not be included. Here are my guidelines for curating a link post.

  1. Read everything you include in the link post. You don’t want to link to a piece which is nothing more than a snippet with link, or is itself a link post. You should also avoid posts where the blogger got their facts wrong, or where the blogger wandered off-topic (unless the diversion is entertaining).
  2. Do not include your own work – unless you are directly responding or rebutting to one of the other links. Remember, the value of content curation is in helping readers find new content, not your own.
  3. Set a schedule, and keep to it. If you can only commit to once a month or every other week, that’s fine.
  4. Keep it short. No one wants to read a link post with 30 links; readers’ eyes will glaze over by the tenth link, or they will be interrupted, or they’ll simply be overwhelmed. Try to aim for links to six to ten stories.

I will be honest with you – I break these rules all the time.

. . . .

Here are some of the tools I use to find stories.They are all free, too.

  • Twitter – Facebook is where people go to hang out, but Twitter is where you will find the news junkies. We not only tweet links that you can find through twitter search, but we also collate lists of sources. I myself have created four lists of Twitter users who share a lot of links, and I follow a half-dozen lists made by others.
  • Google News , Bing News – Just put in your favorite keywords, and these two niche search engines will give you an endless, constantly updated stream of news stories. Based on different algorithms, Google News and Bing News will give you different results, but they do share one deficiency – they’re biased towards a strict definition of “news”, which means they will miss a lot of the more interesting blog posts and other commentary.
  • Feedly – Here’s an old-school solution for you. Way back in the time before people shared lots of links on Twitter (about six years ago) news junkies used to have to subscribe to news sites and blogs, and then periodically check to see if those sites had published new articles. We used services like Feedly to stay on top of all those subscriptions.
  • Google Alerts – do you know what’s even better than looking for news? Having it come to you automatically. Google Alerts lets you follow search results for just about any search term. Whenever a new result is found by Google’s bots, you’ll get an email with the news.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

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