Note from Jane: For the first time ever, you will notice a sponsor this month for Writing on the Ether by Porter Anderson. Our initial sponsor is L.L. Barkat, author of Rumors of Water, as well as the managing editor behind Tweetspeak Poetry. I am grateful to Laura for offering her support of this weekly feature, which takes considerable time and effort to deliver. Thank you!
Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Table of Contents
- Worth more than a thousand words
- Publishing: The here and now
- Agents: Remember them?
- Agents: Another one heard from
- Media coverage: When it sucks
- Publishing: Bwana Mike in Amazonia
- Publishing: Driven-through window
- ‘Social’ media: Undiscovered on Twitter
- Writing craft: Donnie Appleseed
- Nevil Shute: On the shelf
- Writing craft: Novelists as superstitious ninnies
- Writing Craft: Structured time
- Marketing: That on-air interview you’re doing
- Marketing: James Scott Bell & his new gatekeepers
- Last gas: Right(s) of way
Microsoft Monday had them all betting on Barnes & Noble’s chances.
Barnes & Noble doesn’t realize it yet, but Microsoft just stole their college textbook business and wiped out the Nook tablets.
Vertical that it is, everything was looking up at Digital Book World, Jeremy Greenfield manning the pompoms in Possibilities Abound in Microsoft, Barnes & Noble Deal:
Imagine a Windows-powered Nook tablet that breaks the iOS and Android stranglehold on the mobile device market.
Thad McIlroy, came up with an “inspiring haiku-styled poem,” based on part of the Microsoft-B&N press release:
With rapid growth
To solidify our position
A leader in an exploding market
Our exciting collaboration
Our world-class technologies
It is the beginning of a journey
For our complementary assets
We’re at the cusp of a revolution
But McIlroy’s piece was headlined Barnes & Noble Marries Microsoft, and described the “strategic partnership” this way:
Two losers stumbling to the altar without bridesmaids or witnesses…Worse still it’s a marriage of the Hatfields and the McCoys. They were feuding something nasty, and if they hadn’t exchanged vows they were about to exchange bullets.
Mary Jo Foley at CNET was in and out of her Could Microsoft-B&N deal foretell Windows 8-powered Nook? as answers to questions turned up. (Part of reporting in the digital age is that you have to publish before either shoe drops. I’m impressed with how clearly Foley updates her material in the body of the story.)
Was today’s creation of NewCo predicated on B&N settling with Microsoft? Does B&N still have to pay Microsoft royalties on every Nook sold as part of the settlement? (Update: The answer to that one is yes, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.) No word on any of these questions so far…
Clear, concise. Way to keep up.
At Publishers Lunch, Sarah Weinman ably made the initial announcement, of course, in BN Puts Nook and College Business Into New Subsidiary, With Microsoft Investing $300 Million, quoting Microsoft’s president, Andy Lees, saying:
We’re going to have a larger role to play than just being the platform provider; that’s what this partnership allows us to do.
Weinman’s colleague Michael Cader then went to work in the followup, Is the Barnes & Noble Spinoff Really A Leave Behind?
Many in the publishing world greeted yesterday’s news with excitement that the Nook business is assured of substantial funding in order to both compete and grow, and is aligned with the interests of a cash rich technology company. Rather than a spin-off of Nook and associated businesses, however, people may come to the reasoned conclusion that Barnes & Noble is really preparing to leave behind the retail stores, quarantined in a unit of their own.
Laura Hazard Owen dutifully quoted B&N’s CEO happy-talking in her timely Microsoft invests $300m in Barnes & Noble’s Nook; more e-books for Windows. The quotes here are William Lynch’s:
Part of that expansion is a Nook app for Windows 8, “which will extend the reach of Barnes & Noble’s digital bookstore by providing one of the world’s largest digital catalogues of e-books, magazines and newspapers to hundreds of millions of Windows customers in the U.S. and internationally.”
Look hard at the CNNMoney interview JP Mangalindan did with Lynch — Barnes & Noble CEO: NFC coming to the Nook — and you’ll find Lynch apparently including self-publishing authors in his “hundreds of thousands of publishers.”
Really the most valuable part is a vast digital content repository that we’ve built with our relationships with now hundreds of thousands of publishers…
While Laura Dawson in B&N and Microsoft joined the shove-off chorus –“I do believe the @Nook arm will be spun off separately from the B&N mothership” – she had good company in Jay Yarow at BusinessInsider in Microsoft Is Investing $300 Million In Barnes & Noble! who concurred, and added: “Amusingly, Barnes & Noble’s entire market cap was $792 million at the time of the investment.”
Jones, in Microsoft looking to be third time lucky in its bid for ebooks, wrote:
Twelve years ago I attended the first ever Frankfurt E-book Awards, a lavish evening held at the Frankfurt Opera House…At the time Microsoft was touting its Microsoft(R) Reader with ClearType(TM) display technology that allowed digital books to be read on home computers (this was pre-smart phones and pre-tablets).
What if B&N stores added mini Microsoft Stores in each of their locations? The foot traffic is already there and what a great place to showcase and sell that new Windows 8-based nook they’ll undoubtedly create…Xbox is one of the brightest stars in the Microsoft product portfolio…Given the ongoing decline of print book sales it might make a lot of sense for B&N to reduce their superstore title count inventory and make even more room for that Microsoft section I described above.
It’s interesting that Wikert was one of the few who mentioned Amazon at any length in the context of the Microsoft-B&N news. And even as he was talking about terrestrial stores — and the fact, of course, that Amazon doesn’t have any nor want any — CNBC was running a quick-vote viewer poll, asking, “If Barnes and Noble goes extinct, what would you do with all that real estate?”
Purcell’s not talking author platforming here, by the way, but digital platforms. I like the quick-view line-up of platform assets he puts together here to open his piece:
When you look at this ebook game from a distance it seems to make a little sense:
1) Microsoft & NewCo. [for the moment, the name of the entity formed with B&N] = Content, Device, Apps + possible future Mobile play via Nokia & Windows 8
2) Apple = Content+ Device, Apps + Mobile play
3) Amazon = Content, Device, Apps + Whispersync making Mobile already a significant play in my book but an actual partnership not yet to hand
4) Google = Content (-ish), Apps + Mobile (with Motorola) and a Device neutral stance
Purcell then goes on to note that while each of the major players has “some fashion of a flaw,” the entire exercise of adding up cannon vs. battering rams is largely pointless.
Just as Google is failing to maintain its grip on attention and Facebook is growing stronger every day, someone will rise to take Facebook’s place and then another will rise to take theirs. This impermanence of predominance is, for me, a defining characteristic of the web, and it is driven by the incredibly low to non-existent barriers to entry online because the WEB IS THE PLATFORM, which fosters competition, innovation and experimentation.
Now, take a breath. Frequently one of the comments I get from Ethernauts is that they feel their heads are spinning after reading the weekly gas. Light-headed? Are you ready to believe my announcement that Apple and Amana are teaming up to introduce Iced iPads, and just in time for summer?
Good. Then you’re ready to listen to Fran Toolan. And so am I.
In his sharply grounding piece, The Book Industry is Dead, Long Live the Book Customer, Toolan of Firebrand Technologies starts with the gemutlichkeit out there on Ninth Avenue:
Microsoft’s partnership with Barnes & Noble is probably welcome news in many publishers’ boardrooms. After all, this represents the hope that someone can loosen Amazon’s grip on reading public and hence loosen the grip on those that supply that content. But does anyone really think that Microsoft is getting into the book game because they care about books?
“Relentless” comes to mind, as Toolan just scrubs the silly grin right off the moment.
If anything, Microsoft going into business with Barnes & Noble signals something more ominous in my opinion. It signals Barnes & Nobles’ departure from the book industry and formal entrance into the technology industry.
There’s some courage here, as Toolan talks about years when “everyone was happy to live in a bubble called the book industry.”
We were free to create our own rules, set our own standards, and be proud that our work was not only for profit, but was sort of a public service. There was always contention between the publishers and the retail community, but it was genteel, as each side realized that they ultimately needed the other to survive.
In recounting what has happened, Toolan observes the rise of the Internet, the multi-channeling of digital distribution, the Borders collapse.
The result, aside from Barnes & Noble, (is that) the four or five largest customers of every publisher have completely turned over into different entities. Even the major wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who were used and abused by Amazon, are in deep peril as the number of retail partners they have continue to diminish. The new behemoths are all technology companies, Amazon, Apple, Google, and to a far lesser extent, Sony.
Which sets the stage for Toolan’s coup de grace:
With Barnes & Nobles’ departure to the technology industry, I think it’s fair to say that book industry that we all know and love is on its deathbed.
There is, however, in Toolan’s purview, what might be called difficult hope.
The good news is that customers for books and book-like products are still out there, consuming as much as ever…What we need to recognize is that the rules have all changed, our standards and trade organizations are losing their relevance every day, and that really the new retail giants do have some objectives in alignment with those of publishers.
I’d like to recommend this to our good colleague Mike Shatzkin, who’s asking in a column this week what’s needed in the DBW Conference next year. This is an honest conference scene-setter, if ever there was one. I’d like to see DBW consider making it the lead blurb for the conference. Here you go:
To survive and thrive, publishers need to accept their demoted status in the balance of power and move on… Publishers need to work with the new retail giants in order to best understand how to build, market, and promote their products in a way that achieves the maximum return for all involved.
I’m going to get us back to our big theme here — the industry! the industry! — in a bit. And we’ll be hearing more from Shatzkin. If you’d like to move right on to those parts of the Ether, just use the table of contents above to drop down to the sections with “Publishing” in their titles.
If you’re feeling linear, come along as we head off in a few other interesting directions before returning to Our Common Crisis.
There was a time when the relationships that mattered most to an agent were the publishers or rights developers he or she sold to…Now when we roll calls, we’re as likely to be dialing up biz dev VPs at dozens of startups: Ebook designers, app developers, distribution specialists, direct sales engines, digital marketing consultants, online publicists, community managers, daily deal site owners, social reading platform developers, and more.
So as the industry’s orbit coasts lower and dangerously lower, I notice an intriguing pang of anxiety at times in certain colleagues. Have you heard it, too? “What about agents?” Those asking are often the ones who might once have enjoyed third and fourth rounds of “those damned agents” with a few fellow happy-hour query-writers. But now? When “strategic partnerships” whiz past and begin to burn up in the toxic debate of pundits and pedants — i.e. when the ground starts rushing up at you — maybe the guidance of a specialist wasn’t so bad, after all.
Jason Allen Ashlock’s essay at DBW’s Expert Publishing Blogs, Build something. Learn from it. Repeat. is one knees-up proof of performance and an important answer to the question, “What about agents?”
Every agent ought to consider himself, at least in part, in a biz dev role for his or her firm and his or her clients, a role that requires one select the very best strategic partners. If the Literary Agent is going to be the instigator of experimentation, he or she must be the hub of the collaborative relationships, determining which partners to work with, at what level, and to what end.
Ashlock has been ahead of several curves. Merging with California’s Artists and Artisans late last summer, he managed to “build something” unique, himself, deepening his literary agency services with a performance wing led by Adam Chromy. The resulting bi-coastal Movable Type Management (no longer solely an agency) gets at the dense array of services that digitally empowered authors and other clients need. Ashlock writes about the developing construct of his approach:
There are no experts. There are informed experimenters, each using a combination of the scientific method and the holy word of Eric Reis to find their way forward into new markets…These experimenters, us included, will have our share of failures and modest successes, but by simply acting now, the experimenters among us are learning what works and what doesn’t. By the time the marketplace for these digital goods has matured, the experimenters will be the ones who own it.
Lastly, Ashlock’s vision includes a clear call to authors who are ready to be experimentors, themselves. And what I like about this is the onus placed on the writers. There may be many great things ahead. Free lunch is not among them. With my emphasis, here’s Ashlock:
We might embrace a less straightforward representation model, bring on the capable partners, and launch ourselves into a more networked management role, but we need the authors to bring their ideas, their insights, and their bravery. We need all the eyes on the market that we can get, all the ideas that we can produce, all the hands we can get on deck, and all the fearless enthusiasm we can muster if we’re going to experiment enough to stretch toward confidence and eventual expertise. We need our authors to be educated, curious, willing sometimes to lead and sometimes to be led.
Don’t feel bad for all of us poor agents who supposedly may be out of a job in a few years. We’re not the equivalent of buggy-whip makers in the era of the automobile. Maybe we’re more like the road maintenance crew—we facilitated transportation via horse and buggy, and now we’re going to facilitate transportation by automobile, so we just have to figure out how to make the roads better.
Rachelle Gardner, no stranger to Ethernauts, does her best daily to demystify agenting. She turns up right in front of you in her blog posts, shaking off voodoo like a dog shakes off his bathwater — joyously, and with humor.
In Are Agents Running Scared? she takes on that question I’m hearing from authors (who are running scared, yes) and echoes Ashlock, emphasis hers:
The difference is that in our role of career partner and advisor, we’re helping our authors to be aware of all their publishing options beyond the “traditional” ones of the past.
There it is again, see? As Movable Type is doing, Gardner (who’s with the Books and Such agency of Santa Rosa) is researching the amalgam of services authors can need as the wheels fall off our old pageant wagon and thumbs go up for a lift.
Most of us can think of twenty different ways our roles could morph into something related yet different. Those who aren’t interested in rolling with the changes are looking at the possibility of a different career down the road.
The agents are working on it.
I’m fairly sure that the same skills that led us to be agents in the first place will serve us as we each figure out our next step.
If there were one lesson I’d want to impress upon people who are interested in succeeding in the technology industry, it would be, as I’ve said before, know your shit.
That’s Anil Dash in Why You Can’t Trust Tech Press To Teach You About the Tech Industry. He writes of “sites that attract attention from technology developers and startup aficionados (which) are woefully myopic in their understanding and perspective of the disciplines they cover.”
Dash goes on to cover an key omission in recent tech-blog coverage of a reported new Google commenting service, namely that the company had just shut down a similar commenting service.
The work comes to the Ether from Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, who writes:
Most of publishing’s media coverage — in mainstream and trade press, old and new media — suffers from a similar case of myopia and fascination with the new shiny.
In Why Most Tech Media Coverage Sucks… and Publishing’s, too, Gonzalez writes:
Historical context and a clear understanding of the long game are as rare as prominent corrections.
I wrote two weeks ago of my own disappointment in corrections that are mentioned only at the top or bottom of a post but not changed in the body of the write.
Gonzalez goes on to mention another issue we all run into:
Peripheral bloggers attempting to “cover” the industry are even worse, either grinding barely concealed axes or fishing for suckers to pay them for bad advice.
I’m grateful to be mentioned in Gonzalez’ post among some fine regular beat folks, including Jane Friedman, host of the Ether. The point is to take seriously the responsibility of working in public media, especially during the kind of major upheaval both tech and publishing are encountering. Gonzalez’ and Dash’s posts are good reminders for all of us.
If you start from the point that the manuscript is completed, it is easy to see why many aspiring authors would choose self-publishing, primarly through Amazon (because they reach the most customers), rather than take weeks or months to find an agent who will take weeks or months to put a proposal in shape to then take weeks or months to find a publisher. And the publisher will then take months, at least, to put a book into distribution. And that’s if you succeed. Most attempts even to secure an agent — just the first step — fail.
In Amazon’s growth and its lengthening shadow, you read what I think is a new stage in Mike Shatzkin’s considered, thoroughgoing overview of the industry’s progress (or its backslide, if you see it that way). He goes to no small length to lay out a really compelling case for authors who are moving into self-publication, particularly with Amazon.
In fact, he even assigns a rationale to the sometimes overheated, belligerent tone we hear from some self-publishing evangelists. There’s a line in the following paragraph that I’d say it’s probably safe to assume applies to Barry Eisler, the author who passed up a St. Martin’s contract and signed with Amazon in a deal with which he says he’s well-pleased:
If you’ve got the manuscript in hand and you have a choice between going that route and having books to show your friends within days at just about no cost, why wouldn’t you seriously consider it? Why wouldn’t you do it? It seems like a no-brainer. That explains the conviction with which writers who have succeeded through this means, even those who didn’t quite do it themselves but instead just agreed to be published by Amazon, are so unsympathetic to the concern that Amazon’s business practices could cripple the legacy publishing business.
Shatzkin mentions both Eisler by name and the usually vociferous Joe Konrath to introduce what he terms “four serious qualifiers to the logic advocating self- or Amazon-centric-publishing.” Bulleted, those four points are:
- Is your manuscript really finished?
- You must assume the print-in-store component (which Amazon does not supply) “already doesn’t matter.”
- Traditional publishing shifts financial risk to the publisher. Self-publication “shifts the risk back.”
- “Legacy publishers sell ebooks for higher prices than the self-published authors do. Expressing things in percentages might elide realities in dollars.”
Few big authors have gone for Amazon’s money. Tell the truth: wouldn’t you have expected that with Amazon’s power, deep pockets, and an experienced book acquirer at the helm, they’d have attracted some bigger “gets” by now? I’ll admit that I did.
Still. Maybe not for much longer.
As bookstores continue to diminish, it will get harder for the publishers to continue to compete for the big authors, particularly if Amazon is the one picking up the share the bookstores relinquish. That could change the status quo and Amazon might start to get big authors then. If and when enough of the big authors move on, the legacy model will break and we’ll be in a different world.
And then you get the measure of the man.
Shatzkin ends by offering you the contact info to make your feelings known to the DoJ during this 60-day comments period. You can go all Kon-wrathful about it, or dissolve into a pool of John Sargent worship. But none of that changes the fact that Shatzkin is one noble soul, faithfully pressing his consultancy’s concepts as far as he can with a lot more class, to be honest, than many of the shrill anti-legacy voices we hear.
He’s big enough to say things may be moving southward as fast as many of us think is happening. But he’s unwilling to watch that happen without making the appropriate moves. Those include offering you the way to make your comments heard to the Department of Justice. Who else has done this for you?
I hope this post contains useful thoughts for some people formulating their response, which I am still doing. Whenever you’re ready, send your letter to: John Read, Chief, Litigation III Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 5th Street, NW, Suite 4000, Washington, DC 20530
This behavior has a name. It’s called good form. And we’re lucky to have Mike to remind us how it looks.
Don’t fail to note the artwork on author Nick Harkaway’s The Window is Closing at TheFutureBook. That’s a lift of Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki’s “Nero’s Torches.” And Harkaway probably reads Shatzkin as lighter fluid.
The “folks” he addresses, it would seem, are traditional publishers on their super-heating seats.
Seriously, folks, this is it. The window is closing. Time to embrace the new possibilities, be a bit brave, and get in the mix. Time to do the Kindle better than its maker. Time to be bolder than Apple. Time to form relationships with readers, treat them like customers. Time to make the shift to the digital world. The alternative is dying of thirst within arm’s reach of a well. Time, and past time. The window’s closing.
Harkaway – being an author, not a publisher – seems to be feeling the heat of pyres to come.
I have been, in general, optimistic about publishing. I think it’s all there for the industry to take. I think the natural resources of the traditional houses are so staggering that they should have no difficulty in getting into the game and rewriting the rules. What I am beginning to fear, however, is that for whatever imponderable reason they simply never will.
He bases his write on “the beginning of ebook lending” at Amazon, which, of course, isn’t even that new. That window has been open for a while. He’s responding to a piece from the 23rd of last month, headlined Amazon: your local library? from Alex Christofi at the literary agency Conville and Walsh:
The Kindle is everywhere… Now, it looks as if they are putting the infrastructure in place to make another seismic shift—from ownership to access. As well as Amazon Cloud Drive which, like Apple’s iCloud, lets you store the files you’ve bought securely online, they have created the Lending Library—a name which evokes nostalgic, homely images.
What’s not new, Harkaway writes, as what Sam Missingham terms “a cry from the heart,” is the lack of uptake from the established publishing world. Harkaway:
If Amazon is able to create this new space and thereby get a controlling share of it without any attempt at a fightback from publishers, even I will have to acknowledge that the traditional industry may be determined to earn that ‘legacy’ label so unkindly hung on it by the likes of Barry Eisler.
Of course, when things of this tone are written, the room usually is full of smoke already. On this side of the pond, Harkaway’s article would be the kind of op-ed that’s always led with the arch-cliché, “Wake up, America!”
So many things aren’t making sense in the traditional publishing executives’ responses now that many observers might do well to be reminded of the shock Harkaway evokes so keenly. You read it in him, you read it in Shatzkin, you read it in many who thought, surely, the turnaround would come.
But maybe it won’t, huh? Last week, here on the Ether, we picked up on a new slant being taken in many quarters on Amazon. Take a little time this week to listen as the wind shifts — and smoke gets in your eyes.
Obviously, any system based on algorithms is going to be hit and miss — especially one that must sift through the half a billion or so tweets that go streaming through Twitter every day.
In Twitter’s big problem: It still needs better filters, Mathew Ingram at GigaOM gets an advance look at the new Discover tab being rolled out now by Twitter – my home in cyberspace, and maybe yours, too.
As usual, Ingram’s willingness to see how high a bar is placed brings a refreshing tone of willing, collegial concern to what in many, many tech commentators’ hands would be the sneering snot-nerd whine that helps no one. Here’s how a sensible thinker describes disappointment in a tech development:
Recommendation services are a little like voice-recognition, in that no one notices when you get it right but everyone hates you when you get it wrong.
And he takes the time to make it clear why a Discover tab on Twitter isn’t just a fanboy frill:
Getting the “interest graph” right is about more than just users. Twitter needs to solve this problem for its advertisers as well, because if their promoted tweets don’t go to the right people then they will be ineffective. As I’ve tried to argue before, Twitter is a new-age media company, and as a new breed of media player it has to be the best at what new-media companies need to do to succeed — and that is curate and filter better than anyone else.
Many manuscripts feel narrowly focused and small even when the fate of the world is at stake. Conversely, there are novels in which the setting is local, the protagonist isn’t anyone important, and their problems are unique. Even so, those novels sometimes seem to be talking about us all. How is it that big scale stories can seem small, while small scale stories can feel big?
Agent Donald Maass, one of my fellow monthly contributors to Writer Unboxed, is into that intriguing phenomenon of capturing major issues through the comparatively minor realities of character life. In The Good Seed, Part II, Maass writes:
Here are the relevant principles: Fate-of-the-world stakes won’t feel truly big until they’re also scaled down to affect your protagonist personally. Meanwhile, small-scale stories become bigger when they grow more particular.
In the course of some back-and-forth on this, Maass and I have discovered we have a mutual fondness for the work of the late Nevil Shute. His On the Beach wiped me out with its characters’-eye view of an approaching radiation cloud following nuclear war. The effect was so disturbing that I could easily internalize the dread of the coming, certain death. This is something Maass is referring to here:
When a main problem or central conflict gets personal, it gets strong. Make it strong enough and we readers will begin to make it our own.
Speaking of Shute, while in touch with Maass about his column, I made the happy discovery that Random House Digital and Vintage have published a handsome set of Nevil Shute titles as ebooks: 23 titles of what I count as 25 of his total output.
You can see them here at the Random House site.
Shute died in 1960 and was a London-born aeronautical engineer who dropped his surname — he was born Nevil Shute Norway — to protect his engineering career from any bad consequences of his writing. Of course, today we know him as an author, not as an engineer.
Congratulations to Random House and Vintage — this is a use of digital capability that no one can complain about.
As I was saying to Maass, I’d love to see this treatment given to the body of work produced by the late Helen MacInnes. What does it mean when you’re nostalgic for deadly serious cold-war espionage drama?
Novelists can be superstitious ninnies sometimes. The good-luck coffee mug we set next to the keyboard every morning, the song we put on six-hour repeat, the Ideal Reader we summon to mind who kisses the tops of our heads and sends us off on a new day’s fabrications. Some of these fixations are helpful, others worrying symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. But no writerly preoccupation is more universally shared – or has been the cause of more agonized hours staring at the blank page – than the First Line.
Superstitious ninny Andrew Pyper gets into the Globe and Mail with Crafting the novel’s crucial first line. In his write, Pyper gets at the kind of myth-making we all enjoy around the importance of the opener:
Interviews about the writing process are littered with mystical declarations of how the first line came to the author well before the “idea” for the novel itself, and that it never changed. People like this kind of stuff. I like this kind of stuff. Believing that opening lines can come to our minds, whole and perfect, before our even knowing what they are or where they might lead us, has an appeal as potent as life after death.
But, refreshingly, he brings things down to “Planet Mortal Writer,” in the end:
Regard our own openings as impatiently as our readers will. Craft the right grab to suit the story at hand.
The climax occurs very near to the end of the third act. More often than not, it will be the penultimate scene, just before the denouement.
Yes, I keep bringing you the newest installment of K.M. Weiland’s series on story structure. This week, it’s The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 10: The Climax:
The climax is where we pull out our big guns. This is a scene that needs to wow readers, so dig deep for your most extraordinary and imaginative ideas.
Faux climaxes do nothing to change the requirements of the actual climax…Since the climax says everything there is to be said, with the exception of a little emotional mopping up, there’s no need for the story to continue long after its completion.
(Ender) looses his frustrated aggression on the “game” and completely destroys the enemy. Then comes the revelation that he wasn’t playing a game at all, but rather commanding the faraway troops who were fighting the Formics in real time.
And once again I’m impressed with the level of excitement Weiland seems to be able to invest in her descriptive work and formulations of what many could see as dry instruction. This is an editor whose own enthusiasm can make you want to go back and check your own structure.
Each climax is unique since each one must bear out the needs and reflect the tone of its story.
Do not “pitch” your book as an “answer.” The book is a vehicle to reach your readers, and responding to a question with “Read my book!” is not an answer. You and the information you are imparting are the topics of the day. Prove you know your stuff and you will win the readers’ hearts and minds.
In Authors: How To Be a Great Radio Interview, guest Lin A. Lacombe at Joel Friedlander’s site has some good advice on preparing and getting through an interview. In line with her advice on not pitching your book as an answer, be really careful to avoid this “that’s why I go into so much detail in my book about so-and-so” way of handling questions. A lot of writers think this is a clever way of plugging their work without being obvious. Guess what. It’s obvious. Assume your listeners are smarter than you are, and you’ll have your best chance of coming across well.
Tell the truth. No explanation here. You want to hear the truth, so does your audience. “I don’t know” or “I will find out, and follow-up with you,” is better than stammering or contriving a half-baked response.
Lacombe also has you put together a set of questions and answers ahead. Excellent advice. Just be sure you get this to the station for the host well before your interview. Don’t turn up on the day of, and hand that thing over to your unsuspecting host – who may actually have been up all night reading your stuff and planning questions.
Listen! Listen to the question from the host or from the caller.
I’d add one big note here: Learn your host’s name. And try to catch – and use – each caller’s name, if it’s a call-in show. Knowing and using your interviewer’s name doesn’t just flatter him or her, it also puts your listeners into a good mood. They like the idea that you know and like this radio personality they listen to on a regular basis. It makes you sound cordial, interested, aware. Don’t overdo it. Top and bottom of the interview. Goes a long way.
I started adding a cast of characters. And then I thought of plotlines, and the idea of a series started to unfold. These would be in novelette form, around 15k words each. I think that’s a good pulp fiction value for the reading dollar. I even went so far as to commission a talented young artist to do a series logo for me, a nun issuing a flying kick.
In I Am Going to Let the Readers Decide, he blames this whole thing on his poor son, who innocently joked:
“Hey Pop, how about a thriller about a nun who is secretly a vigilante? She knows martial arts, and can kick butt when necessary? … “You can call it FORCE OF HABIT.”
Not the “Flying Nun” of Sally Fields’ day, Bell’s Sister Justicia Marie sounds more Like the gladiatorial ladies of scant mercy I’ve met on the Rome metro at rush hour. Duck and cover.
As I like to dig into themes in my books, I thought this raised a most intriguing question: could a devout nun actually justify violence if it was in the course of doing good, like stopping violent criminals? When a cop asks her the same question, I heard her say this about the criminal element: “They are the knuckles. I am the ruler.”
Careful what you pray for.
When e-books rolled along with the promise to obliterate barriers to distribution, the publishing industry was faced with either changing everything they do, or sticking to what they’ve always done. Naturally, they opted to circle wagons, stick their fingers in their ears and pretend digital is print.
We’re so busy, busy, busy, here in the industry! the industry! with Damnable DRM issues that, as Jani Patokallio writes, we don’t always get around to yet another level of deep denial on the part of Old Publishing. Currently Publishing Platform Architect (nice title, really) at Lonely Planet, Patokallio headlines his piece Why e-books will soon be obsolete (and no, it’s not just because of DRM).
Since my iTunes account has a Singaporean billing address, the Kindle application does not show up in my search results. If I switch countries, I will lose access to everything I’ve previously downloaded. And if I do bite the bullet and switch to Australia, a good chunk of apps, music and more on offer will no longer be available on iTunes, iBooks or Amazon, and I’ll pay around 50% extra on what remains.
Unfortunately, this eloquent article brings us yet one more reason to have to concede that the publishing establishment hasn’t just shot itself in a foot but blown both feet right off. I’ve run into issues of this kind overseas, too. Because:
Publishers insist on selling e-books the way they sell printed books, and customers simply don’t figure in the equation.
What makes this article especially interesting is how much capacity to extrapolate Patokallio gets from his perspective in a Singaporean-Australian pathway. (I feel as if I’ve hit on a latter-day Nevil Shute chapter.)
Once publishers start breaking ranks (as they are already doing) and major authors start to self-publish (as they are already doing), the illusion of e-books being a necessary simulacrum of printed books will start to dissipate.
At the risk of offering you yet another whiplash in a single Ether, yes, our friend here is thinking beyond ebooks. Maintain a solid grip and read on:
What will replace them? The same medium that already killed off the encyclopedia, the telephone directory and the atlas: the Web. For your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non-fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine and Lonely Planet has been selling its travel guidebooks and phrasebooks a chapter at a time, no DRM or other silliness, as PDFs for years now. For more complicated, interactive, Web-like stuff, throw away the artificial shackles of ePub and embrace the full scope of HTML5, already supported by all major browsers and usable right now by several billion people.
Not quite yet. This is what passes for reassurance in Patokallio’s bloggery (which is rather fittingly titled, by the way, Gyrovague):
There’s still a good couple of years of life left in the e-book market before the alternatives work out the kinks of presentation, distribution and retailing. But e-readers will be obsolete in a few years.
So keep your helmet on, Ethernaut. We’re not on the other side of this thing yet by a very long shot and this guy’s lighting some Kindling:
Any publisher banking on e-books being around 5 years from now is in for a rude surprise.
Main image: Sotheby’s sold one of the four extant versions of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for $119.9 million Wednesday evening in New York, making the pastel the most expensive artwork ever to sell at auction. Our images are details from the auction house’s triumphant Twitter page just after the sale. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer, who gaveled the evening, at $99 million headed for the $100 million mark, told the Sotheby’s bidders, “I have all the time in the world.”
this week’s sponsor
Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton