WRITING ON THE ETHER: On the Carpet


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Table of Contents

  1. National Book Awards: On the Carpet
  2. Book Quality: Some More Equal Than Others
  3. Publishing: ‘Agile. It’s our artisanal.’
  4. Amazonia in Europe: Taxing Times
  5. Information Ahead: Free, Silly
  6. Craft: Know Your Antagonist
  7. Conferences: Updates and Pricing Notes
  8. Books: Reading on the Ether
  9. Last Gas: Red or White, Always on the Run

National Book Awards: On the Carpet

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookIt might have sounded just fine at Cipriani Wall Street last evening, but on the BookTV live stream, each arrival of a new person on the podium was accompanied by an ear-splitting 20 bars or so of John Barry’s “You Only Live Twice” theme.

Glitz is in the ear of the beholder.

Still, considering that the National Book Foundation offices remain closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it’s easy to credit the staff and its supporter for getting up such a knees-up party for what Leslie Kaufman in the Times says was 670 people.

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Leslie Kaufman

We all knew from several accounts going in, Kaufman’s chief among them, that the 63rd annual National Book Awards have suffered a certain amount of Man Booker Prize envy and aspire these days to more celeb-clingy opulence than in the past. Molly Ringwald was expected last night. It seems she may not have made it.

In a Times preview, Book Awards Seek a Bigger Splash, Red Carpet and All, Kaufman wrote:

The unstated model here is not the Oscars or the Emmys, but rather the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s top literary honor. Man Booker gives only one award, for fiction, but its imprimatur gives books a second life that traditionally generates more sales, even for nominees who don’t win.

 

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Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman (winner, Most Valuable Tweeter at the Awards) of Publishers Marketplace was interviewed for BookTV during the red carpetry.

She succinctly termed the goal a “more populist-oriented” approach.

She noted along the way that this year’s finalists featured a “strong and exciting list” of writers and their books.

 

And with that strong brace of finalists on hand, I was sorry to hear David Steinberger, foundation chairman, apparently feel compelled to say to the satiny crowd, “It’s not about being glitzy, it’s about increasing the impact great books have.”

No, it’s about being glitzy. And the apology makes it worse.

https://twitter.com/paulbogaards/status/268853554775736320

 

That’s what putting in a red carpet and front-loading a few stars is about. Glitziness, not books.

Let us watch carefully to see how that red carpet enhances the impact of great books.

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Louise Erdrich

Here in the twilight of kind comments about big publishers, Louise Erdrich, fiction winner for The Round House, noted in her comments that HarperCollins is not a huge company anymore — meaning in the shadow of the #PRH Penguin Random House Borg. But, she said, Harper “has always been four or five people to me,” all of them supportive and caring. It was a good line.

To her fellow finalists, Erdrich graciously said, “I don’t know why I’m standing here, but I’ve been working on this for about 100 years.”

And she accepted the award, she said, “in recognition of the grace and endurance of native women…this is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations.”

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Louise Erdrich’s book won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction.

She gave a shoutout to “all the native people who are watching this livestream” and who were, by that point, of course, permanently hearing-damaged by high-decibel renderings of “You Only Live Twice.”

Kaufman’s sturdy write in the Times is here for you, Novel About Racial Injustice Wins National Book Award.

Just to log in a glimpse of how little progress we may have made on certain issues, the Daily News live-bloggerettes offered this too-typical assumption:

9:47 (p.m.) Steinberger thanks Amazon, despite the fact that it is probably the worst enemy of everyone in the room.

That collection of comments is Live from the National Book Awards.

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Katherine Boo

In more reading on the awards, the Los Angeles Times’ write from Carolyn Kellogg is here, Louise Erdrich, Katherine Boo win National Book Awards, with another bouquet thrown to a big publisher, this time for the work of some “ferocious women”:

(Katherine) Boo won the nonfiction award for “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” a book that chronicled three years in the life of an impoverished family in the Annawadi slum. The author thanked her husband, who convinced her to write about poverty, as well as her translators, her literary agent and her publishers — the “ferocious women at Random House.”

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Katherine Boo’s book won the National Book Award in Nonfiction.

Kellogg picks up on the glitzy angle, too, noting that the celebrity bus never quite made it last evening:

The National Book Foundation, which sponsors the awards, has undertaken a high-profile campaign to bring a new measure of glamour to the event. It presented the awards at a black-tie dinner at Cipriani in New York City, hosted an afterparty with a DJ and, for the first time, had a red carpet for arriving authors. Hollywood didn’t exactly come calling; the brightest stars at the event were literary lion Martin Amis and bestselling author Stephen King.

The Associated Press‘ write on the awards is carried by the Washington Post — regrettably without Hillel Italie’s byline (thanks for the byline info, Sarah Weinman) — in a story headlined Writers Louise Erdrich, David Ferry, Katherine Boo, William Alexander win National Book Awards.

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David Ferry’s work won the National Book Award in Poetry.

(David) Ferry is a year older than one of the night’s honorary recipients, Elmore Leonard. Ferry, 88, won for “Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations,” a showcase for his versatile style. He fought back tears as he confided that he thought there was a chance for winning because he “was so much older” than the other nominees. Attempting to find poetry in victory, he called the award a “pre-posthumous” honor.

William Alexander won in the young people’s literature category for his fantasy Goblin Secrets.

A staff write from Publishers Weekly summarizes the Literarian Award of the evening in 2012 National Book Awards Go to Erdrich, Boo, Ferry, Alexander.

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Since taking the reins as publisher of the New York Times in 1992, the paper has earned 46 Pulitzer Prizes.

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William Alexander’s book won the National Book Award in young people’s literature.

The award was presented to Sulzberger by Terry Gross of “Fresh Air,” who praised the Times’s commitment to book coverage as many other publications dropped their own. Sulzberger accepted the award on behalf of the entire Times staff, saying that books are, and will continue to be, a pillar of the newspaper’s brand and coverage. He concluded by thanking the audience, saying: “I’d like to thank you for continuing to tell your story, so we can continue to tell ours.”

The foundation does credit a move to make the announcements of the finalists on television with increased site traffic. Wrote Kaufman in her preview:

This year for this first time the foundation announced the five finalists in the four categories live on television, on MSNBC’s popular “Morning Joe” program.

“Usually we get about 10,000 unique visitors” to the Web site after the announcement, Mr. Augenbraum said, “and we got 22,000 the morning we announced on ‘Morning Joe.’ ”

That’s encouraging, certainly, although I’m not sure the move falls in the same category as efforts in glitz at the awards, themselves. The comparable coup there might be a network broadcast from the awards dinner.

 

And Kaufman has mentioned an idea under consideration of having a long list of nominees announced, as the Booker does, before getting to the shortlist of finalists. That may hold more water, in terms of simple exposure of titles, than the tux count from last evening, the long list seems a good idea to pursue.

I’ll have a few more thoughts on this at the end of today’s Ether in our Last Gas, when we hear from an author nowhere near the event last evening. And for now, congratulations to the winners and all the folks who have worked with them — and lived with them — over the years.

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Book Quality: Some More Equal Than Others

The solution might be to create secondary brands, or it might be about “badging” each book with the amount of editorial attention it actually got. But one signal of quality might not fit all books.

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Mike Shatzkin

In what will seem, surely, a kind of heresy to some, Mike Shatzkin returns to Gotham from my hometown, Charleston, with the idea that publishers may do well to put less effort into quality on some titles than on others.

In his post I came home from the Charleston Conference with a couple of new thoughts, Shatzkin’s reference is to the “Mini-TOC” conference of last week staged by Kat Meyer of O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change team the Charleston Conference of librarians held each year in the “Holy City.”

Kat Meyer of O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change hosted the “Mini-TOC Charleston” conference there just before the large librarians’ event. And in History’s Most Gracious Correction of a Charleston Boy (see our comments section below) points out to me that I originally assigned Shatzkin’s trip to her confab when, in fact, he was brought in to appear at the larger, librarians’ conference.

(As long as the inestimable Meyer has come up, there is more about TOC’s flagship conference in February, by the way, later in this edition of the Ether.)

In part of his new write, Shatzkin echoes Jane Friedman’s frequent assertion that nonfiction hardcopy books — especially how-to’s — eventually will become obsolete because they date so quickly in a world of easily updated ebooks.

When that day comes, the publisher with the really terrific gardening book better hope they’ve made a good licensing deal with the owner of the app. Power will have shifted.

 

But in the more important part of Shatzkin’s write, he’s looking at what he sees as the self-publishing world’s pressures on publishers to produce more content. This leads him first to revisit his and others’ recommendations from the past that publishers reduce the number of imprints they “ask consumers to remember.”

Nuanced brands make sense in a B2B world (for buyers and reviewers) but are likely to just confuse or be ignored by consumers. But as more and more self-published material makes its way to the public and even onto bestseller lists, the reading public (at least those of us who care about grammar, syntax, and punctuation) might be well served by branding that says, in effect, “this book has been edited, copy-edited, and proofread by professionals”.

Now, he writes, however, “that thinking isn’t granular enough.” Publishers, he writes, will come to realize:

Not all the books they’ll want to publish in the future can get the same full-on treatment that they give to all the books they publish now. They’ll want to be able to publish an author’s short non-fiction ebook about the topic of their novel — because the author wants them to — without giving it thousands of dollars worth of editorial development its revenue forecasts wouldn’t justify.

This is a proposal of stratification I think we haven’t heard before. Secondary brands. Apparel outlet stores come to mind. And that idea of “badging” books according to how much editorial attention they’ve had.

Does this give you a pause?

 

Granted, his premise is one that any of us who has read much self-published material understands well:

When you read self-published books (and I do: some of the big bestsellers anyway), you become aware by omission of what a publishers would do to improve them. The lack of copy-editing and proofreading is often what is most apparent, but more acute readers also see the deficiencies in development that good editors correct before a book goes to press.

Many of us can agree with this. But another corner is turned when it’s considered unwise if publishers are “locking themselves into maintaining those high quality standards across everything they do.” Publishers need, Shatzkin writes, “to be able to test titles in the marketplace without doing the full editorial job on them.”

And he mentions the work of Sourcebooks in experimenting with the “agile” model of iterative testing in relation to this.

By luck, we have another new piece from Brett Sandusky on “agile” approaches, and we’ll get to that in our next session. Sandusky wants to tell us this:

Publishing has never put out an agile product to date, so let’s stop marketing ourselves as the latest bastion of agile development.

 

For now, it’s worrisome enough to contemplate books from publishers with badges on them that might say (this is me now, not Shatzkin, don’t blame him)…

  • Economy Editing! or
  • Our Minimal-Development Collection! or
  • Raw Reads! or
  • Artisan’s Draft Special: No More Than 10% Typos!

Somehow the slope got only more slippery in Charleston. Maybe it was having the same cabbie both from and to the airport, CHS not being LGA, you know.

Whatever it was, it sure got to Shatzkin:

When the big publishers float through the looking glass…they’ll see that not all the books they’ll want to publish in the future can get the same full-on treatment that they give to all the books they publish now.

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Publishing: ‘Agile. It’s our artisanal.’

The business model of publishing is based on selling many, many products simultaneously; way too many for any single publisher, even a giant mega-conglomerate, to be able to support at the same time. We are used to a launching a product and then only revisiting when a new edition or update is planned, generally a few years down the road. This ‘set it and forget it’ model of publishing is not agile.

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Brett Sandusky

As promised in the last bad-dream segment (Shatzkin may blow past his futurist friend David Houle at this rate), here’s Brett Sandusky.

In The Mass Produced Artisanal Breakfast Sandwich, he decries the “buzzsanity” (his own anecdatal term) of the overused term “agile” in publishing. Like the “artisan recipe” tortilla chips that scandalize him at the deli (don’t tell him about “organic”), “agile,” he writes, “is our artisanal.”

We have no clue what the word means, and we all talk about it like we’re experts. We are, in our own way, producing artisanal tortilla chips and pretending we did something unique and special.

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The “buzzsanity” of “artisan recipe” tortilla chips — keeping Sandusky agitated, if not agile.

Having ridden a podium seat on several panels about “agile” at conferences, Sandusky swings down out of the artisan-tooled saddle on the higher horse to give us the lowdown:

We are pretty far from an agile process. In fact, one could even argue that it would be impossible for a publisher, given the things we have determined to be essential to our workflows, to even implement an agile process at all.

And, in fact, Sandusky is all but spinning terms on tall, skinny sticks in this piece, giving us an “MVP” that’s not a Most Valuable Player but a Minimum Viable Product.

It sounds all too unhappily like the lower-quality slush Shatzkin thinks publishers may be schlepping out onto the markets some day. Until you realize we might be able to throw Sandusky in front of those releases and protect ourselves, emphasis mine:

Publishing’s content strategy is to put out the best content, edited, polished, beautifully presented. Book products are not MVPs. They are the fruit of years and months and weeks of labor by various individuals. The idea that a book, as it is understood today, is some sort of literary MVP is hogwash. This is simply not the case.

 

And in fact, Sandusky asserts, publishers today haven’t even developed the direct-to-consumer relationships we all wring our hands about enough to generate the “true behavioral and usage feedback loops” that agile processes require.

Until we get to that place, where publishers become media/technology companies building digital products in-house with agile teams and strong customer relationships, we’re simply selling our customers (and ourselves) a bunch of mass produced artisanal books.

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Amazonia in Europe: Taxing Times

It was impossible not to enjoy Amazon’s evisceration at the hands of MPs earlier this week as the internet retailer sought to answer no questions whatsoever about its tax affairs. But fun aside, the session told us as much about our legislators as it did about Amazon.

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Philip Jones

Probably some of the most refreshingly even-handed observations on the corporate-tax hearings in the UK has come from The Bookseller’s Philip Jones, whose column at sister site TheFutureBook is titled Amazon in the dock.

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee inquiries on Monday were focused not only on Amazon but also Starbucs and Google. These corporations are alleged to be substantially underpaying their UK taxes.

The Bookseller’s Benedicte Page reports in Amazon’s corporation tax slammed by HOC committee, covers the stance taken by Amazon during the hearings:

(Andrew) Cecil (Amazon public policy director based in Brussels) said Amazon operates a single European company, Luxembourg-based Amazon EU S.a.r.L, with Amazon.co.uk operating just as a service company. Cecil confirmed that the UK company “does not own the inventory”, the books that it sells. Amazon.co.uk in 2011 had revenues of £207m, which it derived from providing services in the UK for Amazon Europe companies, with an after tax profit of £1.2m and a tax expense of £1.8m. Europe-wide revenues for 2011 were €9.1bn, with a profit after tax of €20m.

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He’s writing here of Margaret Hodge, the commitee chair who was so exasperated with Cecil’s answers about Amazon that she demanded the company send “a serious person” to a follow-up session:

Did Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge really not realise that one of the UK’s biggest companies, one now so central to a number of content industries, was based in Luxembourg for tax purposes? She seemed at times aghast and appalled that she could buy a book that never left this island from a company registered in the Grand Duchy.

Jones writes that Amazon’s UK operations moved to Luxembourg in 2006. And he goes on to point out that British Prime Minister David Cameron has at times publicly celebrated the permanent jobs Amazon generates for his economy. A political rift, in Jones’ estimation, could be a serious problem.

This is important. This PR skirmish may be wounding to Amazon, but that is like a pimple compared to the gash that could be opened up should it begin to lose some of these battles politically

 

More to come, should be interesting.

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Tim Worstall

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Seattle’s saga in another land, keep an eye on Tim Worstall at Forbes, as well. In The Gorgeous Joy Of Tax Dodging By Starbucks, Google And Amazon, he has a good clarification of the key difference of opinion behind the situation at the moment, saying that when it comes to what are called “UK sales” for Amazon, the catch is this:

The UK corporation didn’t have those sales. Amazon Luxembourg did. Again, as EU law both allows and encourages the company to organise itself this way.

Keep in mind that you’re reading easily opinionated material on all sides of this story. But like a fine mosaic, if you look to several writers and compare their various points and counterpoints, you soon start to discern the hard lines from the soft.

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Information Ahead: Free, Silly

After all these years of publishers saying it’s about the content not the delivery we’re challenged to re-think our industry based on information being free.

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Joe Wikert

Joe Wikert at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change has got a recommendation for us that didn’t get shortlisted for the National Book Awards, but might one day be reflected in the material taking hom prizes.

In Free and the medium vs. the message, Wikert quotes author Joshua Gans:

When consumers acquire information, they want to be free to use it in a form they choose. This might mean transferring music between computers, but it also may mean editing a song to use in a home movie. This also makes information (in this case, music) more valuable, which is why, when constraints were lifted, the price of music could increase.

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Even though publishers whine about the pressure to lower prices when content is delivered electronically they actually have themselves to blame for a big part of the situation. Give up the DRM, trust your customers, let them use their content as they want and there will be less pressure for cheaper ebooks.

Gans holds the Skoll Chair in Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto. His site offers a sample chapter from the book and other information. And Wikert’s article includes a code you can use for a discount from HBR.

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Joshua Gans

Wikert plans to excerpt more from Gans’ book in coming days. For now, another topic on which he quotes Gans is the question of delivery vs. the “information business” concept of the industry. Writes Gans (emphasis Wikert’s):

The point here is that publishers and other content providers can benefit from envisaging what their business models would look like if they considered themselves in the delivery business rather than the information business. In other words, if information were actually free, how would they provide value to consumers that consumers would pay for?

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Craft: Know Your Antagonist

Your antagonist needs to summon up reader emotions that are just as strong as those felt for the protagonist. Hateable bad guys will deepen reader sympathy for your protagonist. But, beyond even that, bad guys with whom the reader can identify to at least some degree are bad guys who will make him squirm even more.

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K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland’s How To Write Compelling Antagonists does more than mustache twirling.

She breaks the world of baddies into two major camps — the immoral and the moral antagonists. And then she looks at the various creatures who roam our pages under both headers.

Among the immoral types, for example:

The hypocrite is an antagonist who feigns goodness. He may be guilty of all sorts of treachery and evil, but on the surface he’s all honey and sunshine. He puts a righteous face on his misdeeds (perhaps even accusing the protagonist of hypocrisy to disguise his own), but the reader knows the truth: this guy is not just bad, he’s a fake. And we hate him all the more for it.

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The crusader can be an insanely scary bad guy in his own right. This is someone who fiercely believes he is doing the right thing, and indeed he may well be fighting for a good cause.

He may be someone who believes he has to choose between the lesser of two evils in his decisions. Or he may be someone driven to fanaticism—and thus dangerous decisions—by his passion for his cause.

In fact, he may be just plain out right, while the protagonist is the one who’s wrong.

Now, we wouldn’t know anyone like that, would we?

It’s an interesting read that backs up her sub-headline on the piece, “Other than your protagonist, your antagonist is going to be the most important active force in your story.” And it’s a guest post at The Story Department, the focus of which is on screenwriting, despite the usefulness of this article in any fiction.

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Check us there on Tuesdays as well as here on Thursdays, in Writing on the Ether.

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Conferences: Updates and Pricing Notes

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookLooking over the conference roster this week, we’re left with one week of bookings to go for this year’s FutureBook 2012 conference taking shape under the direction of Sam Missingham and The Bookseller’s Nigel Roby and Philip Jones at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre II in London on December 3.

I’ll be chairing a panel at that one, at 3pGMT / 9aET on the changing roles of literary agents, and am delighted that our panelists will be the agents Clare Alexander (Aitken Alexander), Neil Blair (The Blair Partnership), Jonny Geller (Curtis Brown) and self-published novelist J.F. Penn (The Creative Penn — and I’m hoping to enlist Joanna as a fellow tweeter for the day).

FutureBook 2012 overall features an extensive roster of speakers including Stephen Page (Faber & Faber), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks), Rebecca Smart (Osprey), Marcello Vena (RCS Libri), Michael Tamblyn and Mike Serbinis (Kobo), Charlie Redmayne (Pottermore), Baldur Bjarnason, Katharine Reeve (Bath Spa University), Will McInnes (Culture Shock) and many more.

The day’s agenda details are coming together on this page.

And in a step I wish more of our key conference organizers would take, Missingham has written a new essay on the context in which she’s working to produce the show.

 

In FutureBook conference – programme live, she describes some of the forces with which a day’s comprehensive account of the industry will have to grapple:

Digital is no longer siloed, existing as an interesting area for experimentation and discussion as it was only a few years ago. Commercial realities have meant that the heads of digital in all the major publishing houses are now tasked with delivering significant and sustainable revenue streams to their company’s bottom line. The digital publishing space feels very grown up compared to only a few years ago.

And another interesting perspective in her overview:

It is becoming clear that publishers’ main competition no longer comes from each other. New and established major players continue to circle the field and more game-changing disruption is a certainty.

 

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Writer's Digest, webinar, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution DayOn Friday of this week, November 16, best pricing opportunities are set to expire for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17).

That conference recently has added agent Stephen Axelrod to the roster of speakers. In this case, use the code PORTER for a discount on your registration.

And DBW is now flanked by two key one-day events:

For those interested in the author days — TOC’s Author R(evolution) Day and the post-DBW Authors Launch — I have lists of key speakers in those in our conference coverage from Tuesday in Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives.

 

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Writer's Digest, webinar, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution DayA pricing note for those thinking of going to O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) conference events (February 12-14).

This includes the new Author (R)evolution Day (#TOCAuthors) on February 12.

There is a price break ending today, Thursday November 15 — with an extra 15 percent off offered to those using the code COMM15.

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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

The books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether or in tweets.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our fine Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.

 


 

Writing on the Ether Sponsors:


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Last Gas: Red or White, Always on the Run

Do I really have to live this frenzied life that is taking such a huge toll on my health and home and friendships…and seems to get me no farther ahead?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook

Anne R. Allen

So frenzied, in fact, that Anne R. Allen mixes up her Lewis Carroll queens.

I’m going to fix her headline for her (no extra charge, Anne): The Red  Queen Age: Why Are We Running as Fast as We Can to Stay in the Same Place?

And you’ll find nothing but sympathy here. In fact, I wonder how Carroll would have fared, if we’d have the work from him we have today, if he’d lived on the accelerating authorial treadmill Allen is worried about in her post. She writes of getting a hard-won full draft of her next book off to a waiting editor, only to confront:

Huge, already-overdue writing projects, this blog, guest posts, plus falling fences, overgrown gardens, put-off doctor visits, unpaid bills, neglected family and friends. And my inbox is crammed with requests to help newbie authors, new literary magazines, and start-up reader/author sites. All worthy enough to be set aside for “when I have time”–whenever that may be.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookWith a touching candor, Allen talks of her fears of a return of illness (she suffered pneumonia last January). And she takes onboard the irony of having co-written a writers’ guide with Catherine Ryan Hyde, How To Be a Writer in the e-Age and Keep Your e-Sanity.

Not to add stress to things, this book screams for a better cover. This is the kind of image most folks have nightmares about seeing on the fronts of their books. I’d recommend getting away from the wraith-at-the-keyboard business and into something abstract.

But the point of the book, the point of Allen’s post, the importance of the distress being presented here in book and blog are not to be hidden by amateurish graphics. (Allen is no amateur, neither is her co-author Hyde.)

Allen, mind you, is not a self-publishing author, although her guidance is frequently sought by self-publishers and her blog has a large, loyal following. And a look at her author page at Amazon shows you some 10 titles she has either authored or co-authored. This Bryn Mawr graduate has a type of success that many, many writers today would love to replicate.

 

The promoters of the author platform don’t like to hear successes like Allen write this way, but here it is:

The dictators of the new publishing paradigm say the average author should have followings in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, RedRoom, Libararything—and all the new and wonderful sites emerging daily. (There’s a new reader site that looks like a nice alternative to the sometimes cumbersome Goodreads, called Readmill, which really does look intriguing if you’ve got more time than me.) Oh, and then those are those book trailers we’re supposed to be filming… And we’re also supposed to blog three to five times a week. All while we churn out twelve novels a year.

Some of the Preachers of the Platform are quick to say that they don’t mean for authors to try to maintain full presence across multiple platforms, nor to blog to the detriment of their book writing, and certainly not to “churn out twelve novels a year” — even Allen is exaggerating there.

 

In fact, the most honest of our platform promoters I know recently have been concerned that fiction authors seem to feel driven to mount platforms equal to their nonfiction counterparts’ pedestals. This wasn’t the initial intent, and in many instances, platform instructors have been doing a certain amount of tacit climb-down from the shriller calls to “get digital!” They still want to sign up those people for their courses, but they’re trying to remember to say, “You know, fiction is different, Mr. Carroll.”

But what’s critical in Allen’s post is that authors see it, feel it, experience it, as Allen is expressing it. This is the reality of the received communication, however it was intended and however hard the gurus may work now to try to, um, pivot.

 

Allen, for her part, is casting about for alternatives to the running-in-place that’s making her crazy. She turns to the White Queen’s advice:

“Speak in French when you can’t remember the English for a thing; turn out your toes as you walk, and remember who you are!”

She adds some of her own:

if you’re feeling as pressured as I am, be brave: shut out the noise. Write at your own pace. Ignore social media for a while.

And yet, this is not a satisfying write. Not her fault. I’m saying none of us can be satisfied with the poor, little solace she finds. A poem here, a blog post there. What’s missing is a fix.

 

The industry! the industry! has a way of seeming far more concerned about its morphing digitalia than it is about the authors without which it cannot survive the disruption. We are ending, you see, not far from where we started — if not with publishers alleged to “hate” authors, at least with a business that has tried too hard to commodify the human raw material of its foundation.

I’m not sure the National Book Awards looked very good in glitzier regalia last evening. It looked like a nice party in Manhattan for a lot of people we like from Brooklyn. If that did books and authors everywhere a service, I invite the National Book Foundation to show me how.

Because here is Allen. Not some militant, whining self-publisher, nor some upstart who’s never put a thing onto a shelf. This is a working, career author, struggling to say she’s in trouble without looking worse than necessary in the process.

 

What Allen is telling us is the nonfiction that BookTV isn’t showing us. The authors who won the award last night (congratulations, guys) do know exactly what Allen is saying. They’re the ones who somehow have muscled through all this to get there. I hope no one takes anything from them, I certainly don’t. I know Allen wouldn’t.

But the Hudson seems wider than usual on National Book Awards night.

Surely, Allen leaves any thinking person in this business worried. For themselves and for the rest of us.

She is trying, and I thank her for that, concluding:

Take the Queen’s advice: remember who you are.

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Main image by iStockphoto / Robstyle

  • Jenn Crowell

    While I’m normally on board with Mike Shatzkin, I have to say that yes, his take on imprint “branding” strategy gives me serious pause. In an era in which we’re frequently bemoaning lack of editorial oversight, surely giving editors a free pass to slack in the name of downmarket/”outlet store” edition launches is an awful move that demoralizes authors and devalues the potential inherent in their works. (I understand, of course, that the amount of editing necessary varies from book to book, and that editors these days are ill-equipped or at least reluctant to take on manuscripts that require a tremendous amount of revision to be publishable. But why aspire to low standards in the name of imprint efficiency?)

    And bless Anne R. Allen for saying what so many authors (myself included) are thinking but too afraid to admit, lest they appear like Luddites or uninvested in their own marketability.

  • Anne R. Allen

    Oh, my! So funny to be taking my usual Thursday meander through the Ether and confront my ownself (sounding a little whiny, which is a little embarrassing.) I’d been aiming for a tone of commiseration. I know so many authors who are running faster than me–all those feisty little indies who are doing it all on their own.

    Many thanks for fixing my headline! A reader did point out it was indeed the Red Queen who said we must run as fast as we can to stay in the same place, but I figured Google might be confused by the title change at that point.

    But I was half right: it was the White Queen who said “remember who you are.” That piece of advice may not save us from the Red Queen treadmill, but could help us survive the ordeal.

    I am more than honored to be included in a post about the National Book awards winners! As a genre writer, this may be as close as I ever get, and I offer a huge congratulations to all–nominees and winners alike.

  • GrigoryRyzhakov

    I’m glad Katie got mentioned in this Ether. She’s been doing a great job with her Wordplay blog for years, and her how-tos-nd tips have been very illustrative and insightful and there’s always nice discussion continuing in the comment section. I hope her upcoming fantasy novel Dreamlander will bear a ‘no.1 bestseller’ in the title in no time

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    So basically, @google-cdd662dbbf570b08f57074b311216f88:disqus , we’ve been run over by two queens, right?

    Glad to have you, Anne, and I really appreciated what you were saying here — didn’t come across to me as whiny. A lot of us are all too familiar with what you’re talking about — and yes, I look at some authors I know and don’t know how they do it. (Then I look at a few others and think they need to get into gear, lol.)

    I think we’ll all be better off in a couple of years when the confusions have played through more fully. At this point, so much of the overwhelm is the result of doing things that may never pay off. Trial and lots of error.

    At any rate, thanks again, Anne, and hang in there,

    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, @jenncrowell:disqus — glad you brought up the helpfulness of @google-cdd662dbbf570b08f57074b311216f88:disqus’s piece, I tihink a lot of folks feel this way, she captured a very widespread nervousness.

    And yeah — realize that I’ve taken Mike’s write to a kind of speculative stage of examples (I pray we wouldn’t end up with actual labels on books announcing that they were or weren’t fully edited), but Mike’s idea of publishers trying to sort out how they can move more inventory by giving some or all of it less attention has a terrible ring of potential truth to it. Which is why I wanted to be sure to get it high up in the Ether.

    We have to hope this will be no more than a cautionary what-if.

    I’m with you, I think that purposefully diminished would be appalling. But you know, you never know. We keep our eyes open.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Jenn!

    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hi, @GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus

    Thanks for reading the Ether and dropping a note here. I’m a big fan of Katie Weiland’s work. She’s the best editor-blogger I know for helping to demystify her part of the business and I’m constantly learning from her, myself. Dreamlander sounds very interesting, let’s hope we see it really take off for Katie.

    Thanks again, bests from here,
    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://www.toc.oreilly.com/ Kat Meyer

    Dear and darling Porter – Thank you for mentioning the mini TOC — it was fabulous, but Mike was, I believe, actually referring to the bigger (some 1500 attendees, I believe) Charleston Library Conference. Check it out at http://www.katina.info/conference/ — Thanks to mini TOC’s gracious host, Mitchell Davis of Bibliolabs, I (and several of the TOC speakers) were able to attend the library conference, as well. Lots of sessions. LOTS of really wonderful librarians! And, not satisfied with two terrific bookish events last week, Charleston (and super cool Blue Bicycle Books) also played host to the Yall Fest on Saturday. 40+ Young Adult authors — 100′s of fans. I don’t know. If it weren’t for the dangerously addictive food (see “southern fried chicken skins” http://www.huskrestaurant.com), I might not have left … Your hometown did you proud, sir!

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Well, @KatJMeyer:disqus

    I must say, ma’am, that anyone capable of so grandly gracious a correction as this is, surely, born to be a belle of our Newer South, and you’re always welcome to the Lowcountry for as as long as you’d like. (And yes, bring your cardio couture, especially since you found Sean’s Husk, the calorie counts defy all computation.)

    It really sounds like the librarians certainly took good care of you, and yes, the Y’all Fest, as I compulsively write it, looks like a lot of fun. http://yallfest.org/ Glad you took such advantage of our humble (I’m lying) homeland, and when I see you next at a conference of my imagining, no doubt, you’ll have to fill me in on more of your exploits between the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers. Did you get into that horse-drawn carriage I kept shoving you toward?

    Thanks much, and corrections made above on the Good Shatzkin’s itinerary.
    Y’all take care, honey.
    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

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