WRITING ON THE ETHER: Eye of the Turkey


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Table of Contents

  1. Eye of the Turkey: What is Tom Reading?
  2. The Empowered Author: (R)evolution Day
  3. More Conference Notes: Deadlines
  4. Library eBook Lending: Shatzkin’s Reading
  5. For Want of ISBNs: ‘There Will Be Loss’
  6. Who Hates Whom?: Boogeymen-at-Large
  7. The Sum of That Fear: 3 Stages of Merger Reaction
  8. Fear, Schmear: Merge This
  9. Ferriss’ Wheel of Fortune: Full-Assed
  10. Craft: Go for Separate Accounting
  11. Craft: Why Do You Write?
  12. Books: Reading on the Ether
  13. Last Gas: Remember Editors?

Eye of the Turkey: What is Tom Reading?

The idea that boys like factual prose and girls like figurative language has persisted through the 20th and into the 21st century, which is why my industry colleagues rend their garments and despair as half of the reading public ignores half of the reading material out there.

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Bethanne Patrick

Here on the States’ Thanksgiving Day — and may the Ether find you having a grand one — we’re hearing from one of our community’s favorite people, the indefatigable books-and-reading advocate Bethanne Patrick.

Men tell their families to buy them history books, biographies, and pundits’ tomes for holiday gifts and profess that they just “don’t read fiction.”

In Fiction is a feminist issue in the Tools of Change blog, Patrick grapples with the “idea,” as she rightly puts it, that men won’t touch fiction.

The topic came up for her recently as she took a bag of novels to a female friend but no books for her husband.

I explained to him that I…receive fewer nonfiction books and pitches these days because I tend to write about and talk up fiction, although that could change any day depending on what project I’m working on at the time. His disappointment, however, sparked a dinner conversation about why men tend to choose nonfiction over fiction–especially because on of the books we discussed was Midnight in Peking, and our friend’s comment was “It was so good; it read like a novel!”

 

Patrick gets to the line that bugs her the most here:

I said, “Why don’t you read novels, then, if you like that sort of ‘read?’” His answer was that he prefers to read books that teach him something.

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, BowkerSo her take on this, not unwarranted from that exchange, was that men — I know, hang on, I’m going to work on that “all men” implication in a second — believe that only nonfiction can teach them something.

And, of course, one logical and predictable assumption here, which I believe Patrick adopts, is that men don’t see emotional or maybe spiritual or relationship “knowledge” to be worth learning. This is thought to be because of historical-cultural patterning, a bit of which she runs through.

OK. So first, I wanted to know if men really don’t read fiction.

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, BowkerI feel sure Clive Cussler would say oh yes they do. So would Clancy, King, Grisham, le Carré, Pressfield, that Hemingway guy, and lots of others.

Patrick would say that these are purveyors of things men want to learn, however. Things involving dump trucks, I believe, and warfare? (I’m putting words into Patrick’s mouth, she mentioned no warfare nor dumptrucks.)

It’s my guess that Barbara Kingsolver has many male readers. Trotsky in Mexico? The HUAC hearings? What’s not to like in The Lacuna?

And Flight Behavior — it’s Kingsolver at her most scientific yet. Dump trucks cannot be far out of sight.

 

But you know, lobbing authors across the dinner table at each other in these discussions is like Bible-verse fights. There’s a scriptural antidote to everything.

So I turned to Bowker Research to see if I could at least get a more factual fix than we usually bring into these discussions on fiction and nonfiction consumption. Here is some of what I was able to learn — and my special thanks to Carl Kulo and Phil Caine for some very fast work while the turkey was in the oven.

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, BowkerAccording to Books and Consumers from Bowker Market Research for 2012, the percentages of men and women buying both adult fiction and nonfiction have stayed fairly near constant for the past two and a half years.

For example, men were 37 percent of the adult fiction buyers in 2010, 39 percent in 2011, and 36 percent in the first half of 2012. So a bit over a third of the adult fiction buyers have been picking up adult fiction. I wonder if that’s quite as bad (in terms of men and fiction) as might have been expected?

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012 — The third column shows January through June of 2012

But now look at nonfiction. Men were 42 percent of the buyers of nonfiction in 2010; 44 percent in 2011; and 41 percent in the first half of this year. Or put the more interesting way, women were 58 percent of the buyers of nonfiction tracked in 2010; 56 percent in 2011; and an impressive 59 percent of the buyers of nonfiction in the first half of 2012.

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012 — The third column shows January through June of 2012

What does this say to me?

Well, clearly, women are learning a lot about dump trucks and warfare.

No, seriously, even if we allow for the idea that women are buying some books for guys (I have no problem with that), the divide between consumers of nonfiction may not be quite as Venus-y-Mars-y as we thought.

And since the procurement of nonfiction looks a bit better balanced between fiction and nonfiction that might have been expected, let’s take up Bowker on a chance to look at sub-genres read by men and women in the first half of this year.

Here are the fiction genres, men in blue, January through June of this year:

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012

And the breakdown for nonfiction, again men in blue, January through June of this year:

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012

And I’ll give you just a couple more interesting looks — assuming the food coma is hitting by the time you reach the Ether, just stare soulfully at these illustrations and the family will think you’re bravely going over some work on Thanksgiving.

This is a slide presented at Digital Book World’s fine inaugural Discoverability and Marketing Conference in New York in September. What it shows us is that in the first half of this year, men came close to parity with women in terms of discussing books on social networks on a regular basis.

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012

And lastly, this is one I like very much, also from that fine presentation from Bowker at Discoverability, which was later repeated in an excellent DBW webcast. Below, you see a chart reflecting Bowker’s revelation that men socialize online about books more if they read ebooks. What’s represented here is mystery novel readers, too, just to be sure you don’t miss that. Not dump trucks or warfare.

And as I drop this one in, I’ll mention that one reason I like it is because it tends to support Porter’s Completely Unscientific and Untested Guess About Male Readers — which is that they’re reading more, and not just because guys like gadgets, so e-readers are cool, but also because on e-readers, it’s much easier to conceal what you’re reading. Meaning, it may not be dump trucks or warfare. Might be mystery novels, huh?

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Source: Books & Consumers, Bowker Market Research 2012

So. What can we say now to our friend Bethanne Patrick?

I’m going to agree with her here, but having seen what Bowker shows us — which indicates that the guys might be somewhat more amenable to some fiction than expected — I’ll put a word or two of my own in [brackets like this] as I quote her:

If those of us in publishing want to get men to read [more, and more varied] fiction, we need to do more than simply publish excellent fiction. We’re already doing that, and I don’t mean just fiction written by or for men; I know that my husband would love Ready Player One or A Visit from the Goon Squad or The Passage. He thinks that his time is important and shouldn’t be “wasted” on books that won’t teach him anything.

Good, and here’s what I’ll suggest to Patrick. Next time you’re headed over to that couple’s house with that generous bag of novels for the wife, take her husband … a novel. And sure, it doesn’t have to be Ken Follett. Try Ian McEwan’s Solar. Or even his new one, Sweet Tooth.

 

What I’m getting at is that we tend to operate on assumptions whenever we get onto the gender portion of the dinner party chatter.

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, BowkerAnd sure, when we look at the data, yeah, men are closer to dump trucks than romance.

But it’s not the Grand Canyon of difference we tend to imagine.

Very few things are that dramatically baffling in gender relations, by the way. It’s just convenient to perpetuate the stark-difference concept because declaring “I’ll never understand the opposite sex” is easier than admitting we actually do understand, all too well.

Want a guy to read a novel? Give him one.

Tell him to speak up if he doesn’t like it, cross it off your list and try something else.

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, BowkerWhy wait for bolts from the blue to change half the species when it’s really pretty easy to just openly, sensibly lead folks along? — especially if we don’t voice our “everybody knows” assumptions all the time.

Like “everybody knows” guys won’t read fiction.

Thanks to Bowker, we now know that “everybody knows” no such thing.

Assumptions are the enemy. Individual contact is your friend. Remember hand-selling? That’s all it is.

Maybe if we don’t make a policy issue of it.

Maybe if we just say, you know: “Here, Tom, read this, tell me what you think.”

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The Empowered Author: (R)evolution Day

We had a growing awareness that the kinds of conversations and information we were dealing with at TOC—important conversations about the future of publishing—were not making it over the fence to the people who needed it most: the authors and creators.

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Kristen McLean

Kristen McLean here is echoing my own frustration with the gulf between many standard writers’ conferences (heavy on craft, inspiration, and Kumbaya) and the elite winter confabs in New York at which the industry studies its trends and tropes.

We think the new model is being built right now, and authors have a role to play.

McLean is co-chair of the O’Reilly Tools of Change Author (R)evolution Day conference, set for February 12 in New York City, the first day of TOC 2013.

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, Bowker“TOC Authors” is being designed, with support from McLean’s Bookigee, Publishers Weekly, and Argo Navis, to redefine what a conference can be for writers, to get them in touch with the actual and forward-leaning industry thinking that’s been missing from so many authors’ events. I’ve conferred with McLean on this program and I’m pleased to commend it to you today with a special code you can use — AFFILIATEPA — for a $300 discount on your TOC registration. (In the interest of full disclosure, this is an affiliate code and I do get a modest payment when a registrant takes advantage of its discount.)

We are facing a whole new publishing paradigm, and we want to create a whole new kind of author event. “Tips & Tricks” just aren’t going to do it anymore. Here’s our manifesto.

 

What McLean evokes in Author (R)evolution Day Part I and Part II at the Tools of Change blog is more than logo-deep. How encouraging it is to see these ideas backed by what I know to be the serious intentions of TOC’s Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer. The effort here is genuine, and the considerable capacities of the TOC operation are being brought in to produce it.

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Ruediger Wischenbart’s newly updated Global eBook Market is available free from O’Reilly Media. This is the sort of perspective that empowered authors can cultivate to get a higher view of the industry.

Two more quick points of my own before I bullet out for you McLean’s six tenets.

  • This is not the creation of militant self-publishers. Self-publishing authors are most welcome here, not least because that’s what everyone will be some day, in one form or another. My point here is not to castigate the obstreperous, but to reassure you that this is not a bash-the-publishers fest. In fact, look at these lines from McLean:

Successful mainstream publishing houses will evolve, shedding legacy overhead and reforming outdated processes, but in all our talk of revolution, we are not suggesting they are going away entirely. Rather, the houses that successfully re-tool will co-exist in an ecosystem with a whole range of alternative publishing resources and workflows, and we will see a flattening of working groups and a progression away from “pipeline” thinking.

  • There’s a pointed value to McLean calling this “our” manifesto and stating ownership of her precepts. It quickly runs deeper than a sales pitch. The intention carries.

 

So here are McLean’s key points and each is fleshed out in her essay. I hope you’ll find some time to spend with her article, and give serious consideration to being in New York for the event in February.

Authors and content creators are the future of the publishing business. …No matter what happens in the middle of the chain—what the role of “publisher” looks like, what formats & devices come out on top, how content is acquired, who is selling it, and how readers are buying and consuming it…there is no great content without great authors and creators making it.

Authors are perfectly capable of writing great books, and running great businesses (at the same time). …We think the real problem is structural. Because of the way the industry has evolved, authors have been systematically out-sourcing their knowledge of the publishing chain for so long, it’s like a muscle that’s never been used.

Entrepreneurialism is the new black, and curiosity is the new currency. …In order to be well-equipped for this new environment, we think authors and content creators need as much training in business and publishing expertise as they do in writing.

The publishing future is largely collaborative. …We don’t think authors will have to do everything themselves, nor should they. We think the future holds exciting possibilities for helping authors get into the market by working together in many innovative ways.

There is turbulence at the edge of the unknownhold steady. …It’s important to separate the Culture of the written word from the Business of the written word. The culture of the written word is exploding—we are reading, writing, and publishing more now than at any point in human history. We think it’s very cool. It’s the Business of the written word that is in transition.

The new rules are being written right now—you are writing them. …We can argue over how much good content comes out of all that chaos (and we will), but for authors and content creators, we haven’t had this kind of open marketplace for several hundred years here in the US.

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More Conference Notes: Deadlines

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, FutureBookIn London, the December 3 FutureBook 2012 Conference closes registration on Friday night (November 23).

During some free-wheeling correspondence across the water this week, I found out that members of the Changing Role of the Agent panel I’ll be chairing want our discussion to be…free-wheeling. What a spirited team. As long as the first couple of rows of the audience take simple precautions — helmets, face guards — the session should be perfectly safe.

We’ll be lobbing live tweets from FutureBook 2012, by the way, on hashtag #fbook12. Duck and cover.

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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, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookThe next price break on registration for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) — and the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital (January 15) and Authors Launch (January 18) — ends on December 7.

There are savings of up to $200 available until then. You’re welcome to use my affiliate code PORTER.

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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, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookImmediately following Digital Book World (January 18), Authors Launch — from the Publishers Launch team of Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader — is a daylong series of specialized presentations from a roster including Peter McCarthy, Dan Blank, MJ Rose, Randy Susan Meyers, Jason Ashlock, Meryl Moss, Ether host Jane Friedman, David Wilk and more.

Areas of coverage during the day include SEO strategy for authors; hiring marketing and publicity help; audience engagement; and media training issues.

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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, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookAuthor (R)evolution Day (#TOCAuthors) (February 12) from O’Reilly Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly has special early pricing that ends December 20. Among featured presenters: Cory Doctorow, Eve Bridburg, Laura Dawson, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, Kristen McLean, Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert.

Use my affiliate code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $300 on your registration.

In case you missed it, there’s more on this one in the above section of the Ether.

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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, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookO’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) conference  (February 12-14) also has a December 20 cutoff date for early pricing, and includes a major brace of workshops for other industry professionals during Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday); and two more days of multi-tracked offerings, from the book as API to “lean publishing”; from content design to creators and tech converging.

Use my affiliate code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $300 on your registration.

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

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Library eBook Lending: Shatzkin’s Reading

“What makes you decide to buy an ebook rather than borrow one? Might it be that you’re buying the ebooks that are not available to you through the library?”

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Mike Shatzkin

In a neat turn of the book-return tables, Mike Shatzkin – now in preparation for Authors Launch and Digital Book World in January — calls into question the recently announced survey of a reported 75,384 people by OverDrive (the distributor of library ebooks) and the American Library Association.

In his write, Much-trumpeted survey proves the opposite of what the surveyors seem to think it does, he demonstrates that it might not be so valuable to insist that a large percentage of library patrons are also heavy buyers of books.

What if the survey had said “we have found no overlap at all! The people who borrow ebooks from libraries never buy an ebook. They only borrow.”

If that were the case, would there be any reason at all not to sell ebooks to libraries? No! There would be no potential for sales cannibalization among that audience if borrowers and buyers did not overlap.

 

And second, Shatzkin asks:

What if the book purchasers among the library ebook borrowers…(are) buying some ebooks because those aren’t available in the library?…I’d say “thanks for the information” and for evidence from an unbiased source that publishers are entirely correct to be wary and careful about making ebooks available for library lending.

Laura Hazard Owen

This is a survey, you may remember, that Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent pointed out can’t effectively be extrapolated to the wider population.

The respondents, for one thing, were self-selecting, they volunteered. And they were highly engaged library users. Her story is Avid library ebook borrowers claim it doesn’t affect their book buying.

But both the initial interpretation of the results and the more sublte points cited by Shatzkin indicate how complex is even what might look like “proof” of library lending’s benefits to publishers.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder. If not of the turkey.

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For Want of ISBNs: ‘There Will Be Loss’

As with any disruption, there will be loss. Some work does not meet the migration test – for one reason or another, it never gets brought along in the cultural evolution.

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Laura Dawson

Bowker’s Laura Dawson, in The Things We Lose, is following up on her fine explanation in Ether for Authors: Can We See You? just how little we know about the number of ebooks being published, how few can be “seen” by trackers and researchers without that code.

Because so many ebooks and multiple-format editions of them have been published without being given International Standard Book Numbers, or ISBNs, she says in that piece at Publishing Perspectives:

We have ZERO idea of the total pool of e-books out there. We only know the percent of e-books vs. print within the set of ISBN assignments.

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This week’s Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives featured Laura Dawson on the importance of ISBNs in digital publishing.

When asked about the mass of material published in recent years, a small sea of output that’s untrackable by Bowker Research without ISBNs, she writes, in her new post:

At first, this work is the province of publishers, deciding what makes the cut for conversion to new formats. Secondarily, it becomes the province of librarians, who cull and curate, preserve and archive. And, in a tertiary fashion, this work becomes that of scholars – graduate students, researchers, archaeologists, professors – rediscovering that which has been very successfully lost and re-evaluating it in new contexts.

But finally, Dawson — in her catbird seat at the heart of the US ISBN agency — has a view of the loss factor that she describes as “a bit sanguine.”

Lost work is an aftermarket - with all its inherent risks. There are benefits to it as well, though – rediscovery brings about new ideas, new work, new products. Once there is mention of something on the Internet, it’s hard to squelch it. Rediscovery becomes a bit easier because of the persistence of the web.

 

As good an idea as ISBNs are, and for each format of a work, Dawson already is looking past the transitional losses to our conversations to come.

I think that, increasingly, we won’t be talking about the concept of loss so much as we will be talking about the concept of obscurity.

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Who Hates Whom?: Boogeymen-at-Large

Publishing houses despise authors and are doing everything they can to make their lives miserable.

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Michael Levin

It was one of those bits of bloggery that perfectly explain the term “link bait.” Why Book Publishers Hate Authors riled a lot of folks. It’s the work of author Michael Levin, at the Huffington Post, of course. Levin wrote, in part:

The three R’s of the publishing industry, the strategy for survival, quickly became “Reduce royalties and returns.” Returns are books that come back unsold from bookstores. Printing fewer copies typically ensures fewer returns. Reducing advances and royalties — money publishers pay writers — was the other main cost that publishers sought to slash…More and more publishers moved to a minimal or even zero advance business model.

You get the idea. Rather than spend more Ether quoting it, I’ll let you read more if you like. Levin sums up his sermon this way:

Publishers have begun to hate authors. But seeking to squeeze out the individuality and admittedly the eccentricity of authors is just one more reason why book publishing as we know it is going over the cliff.

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Victoria Strauss

So. Here is a sturdy take-down of Levin’s piece from Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware: Publishers Hate Authors? Really?

Strauss takes on board some of the business-related displeasure Levin sees publishers harboring for authors:

Some of what Levin says is true. Returns are a problem, and publishers have curbed print runs to address this… Bloated advances–while the exception–are a problem. And if you’re an author with lackluster sales, BookScan numbers are indeed something you drag around with you like Marley’s chains, and can affect your ability to sell subsequent books.

And yet, she writes:

Does all of this…really turn publishers into haters? Does it really drive them to wage covert warfare on the content suppliers that keep them in business? Does it–as Levin explicitly claims–actually benefit publishers to destroy writers’ options and careers?

Her answer is a definitive no, and she hangs around on it long enough to shoot down a specific point or two of Levin’s, as well:

Publishers are not, as he claims, moving en masse to “a minimal or even zero advance business model.” Publishers don’t do “zero marketing”–what, does Levin think they want to lose money?

https://twitter.com/jonnygeller/status/269828872701366274

 

And then she turns the tables, my emphasis:

If publishers don’t hate authors, authors sure do hate publishers. Whether from angry rejected writers who want to blame anyone but themselves, or self-publishing evangelists eager to dance on traditional publishing’s grave, the chorus of publisher-hating is getting louder every day.

Her very last line holds the key to what should concern us about Levin’s post:

Sadly, it will fall on receptive ears.

That’s the real crux of the matter. There are times when facts weigh far less than fancy. Times when disruption proves so unsettling that the monsters under all our beds can be spotted. You see? We knew they were there! And they hate us! Those publishers really, really hate us! Fear grips us. We have receptive ears for anyone able to raise that phantasm for us.

Freeze in your mind for a moment the snapshot of our fearful author, petrified on his cot. He has read Levin. He has heard the monster scratching around below his mattress. Got it? Good.

 

Now let me take you to another voice, one that can show us another character in our drama. Also not getting much sleep.

Amazon. Apple. Google. Self-publishers. Pirates. Libraries. Authors. Agents. Consumers. Boogeymen, all. Publishers don’t believe they’re going extinct…not quite. But they are absolutely certain that something really, really bad is about to happen. And, depending on where one sits, it is obvious that this bad thing will result in a) the cultural obsolescence of general trade houses and/or b) the shrinking or evaporation of profits. And, of course, the loss of one’s job, which is likely hard-won and beloved. That’s The Fear.

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Peter McCarthy

In his thoughtful appraisal of the proposed Penguin Random House merger (regulators are still to speak on it), publishing marketer Peter McCarthy provides a tacit indicator of why Michael Levin’s publishers-hate-authors rant actually does have emotional, if not factual, resonance. And as journos including Laura Hazard Owen bring us reports of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster reportedly in “preliminary” merger talks, all that McCarthy describes is writ larger.

Notice that authors are included among the dreadful “boogeymen” gathering to produce for publishers what McCarthy calls The Fear.

McCarthy, in When Elephants Mate: Thoughts on the Potential Penguin Random House, is not addressing Levin’s post. I should make that clear. Levin ran on the same day as McCarthy and, as far as I know had no connection at all.

But so quickly and forcefully was Levin’s write dismissed and denigrated by some members of the publishing community that its real message for thinking people was probably lost.

 

It’s just this: If publishers don’t hate authors, it can sure look that way at times to authors — in the same way that, as McCarthy points out, authors can look to publishers exactly like something that just crawled out from under the box springs.

McCarthy:

This merger is borne first of The Fear, secondly by attempts to quantify it via scenario planning and fiscal modeling, and lastly the decision to attempt to mitigate the consequences The Fear implies via a mega-merger.

In McCarthy’s capable eloquence, anyone can, of course, understand The Fear keeping publishers awake. Levin is a ham-handed hack by comparison to McCarthy — and bunked, we must remember, at the Huffington Post, on the low thread-count of tabloid hyperbole.

But both Levin and Strauss are right — according to which side of that bed you get up on.

  • In the eyes of many authors? Publishers have fangs. And as silly as Levin’s shtick might be, our buddies in Brooklyn would do well to listen to Strauss when she tells them that nonsense can sound like wisdom to those who will listen.
  • And in the eyes of some folks in publishing? Authors can look pretty monstrous, themselves, especially when they panic, drive their agents and editors crazy, and thrash out a nightmare like Levin’s column.

The message of this mini-episode in our unending sitcom, The Industry! The Industry! is that everybody is going to have bad moments now. Everybody will wake up staring into space at one time or another, shaken and unnerved. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, be grateful and sleep with a light on.

When it hits, try to stay off the keyboard, Mr. Levin. But it would also be smart if we each applied a little understanding to the others’ Fear.

We’re all in the dark.

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https://twitter.com/rechtsteiner/status/271079358247104512

 

The Sum of That Fear: 3 Stages of Merger Reaction

I’ve felt, watching and reading the reactions of tweeters, journalists and thinkers, that there have been three clear waves of response to the news.

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Eoin Purcell

Dublin’s Eoin Purcell admits in On Publishing Mergers & Strategy that his delay in posting on the subject of the Penguin Random House merger was as much a result of workload as cleverness. But he adds that “it’s quite remarkable what you can discern when you stay out of the flow of an issue.” He’s right, of course. And don’t you wish that more of our good friends would just wait a bit before reacting to every single bump in the night?

I’ve felt, watching and reading the reactions of tweeters, journalists and thinkers, that there have been three clear waves of response to the news…the shock and awe stage…the fear and loathing stage…(and) the dealing with reality stage.

But “curiously overlooked in the discussion to date,” he writes, is something else — “the fact that we are seeing two very different strategies in action here, and strategies that are making value judgments on entire industries. And what are they?”

Well the first is a clear strategic decision to move out (and definitively so) of the trade publishing industry. That’s what Pearson has done. Make no mistake about it, it wanted shot of trade publishing…

In counterpoint, Bertelsmann made a very different decision indeed. Penguin Random House is now a Bertelsmann beast, majority owned by the company…Bertelsmann has doubled down on trade publishing.

It begs the question, “Which one of these huge companies is correct?”

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Fear, Schmear: Merge This

Here’s what’s so maddening about this, as an author and a reader. BestBuy may not have another option to compete with Amazon; they both sell the same electronics after all. But publishers absolutely do. They are just stubbornly refusing to take it. Because it involves retooling their force of editors, taking risk, and doing the real work that made each of these publishing oligarchs so successful to begin with.

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Sarah Lacy

Not that anyone expected Sarah Lacy (@sarahcuda to her Twitter friends) to mince her words. Nevertheless, she really clears the coffee table in a hurry with her post at PandoDailyAll six mega-publishers can merge, and they still won’t win Amazon’s game.

Still profitable, but under serious threat from Amazon…publishers are opting to fight back by merely getting bigger. Random House and Penguin are tying up in a $2 to $3 billion deal, and the Wall Street Journal reports that HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster are mulling a deal as well.

Clearly, nobody asked Lacy if this is the best idea:

This would leave an industry already dominated by six big publishing oligarchs even cozier — and significantly more lopsided with two big giants and two smaller companies.

And, hey, she provides us with segue material, too, riffing on our man Tim Ferriss. (Yes, double-”s” on Ferriss, please, this is not the theme-park guy. Yet.)

Just look at the tom-catting that legendary self-promoter and best selling author Tim Ferriss is doing over his new book “The Four-Hour Chef.”  Ferriss, true to form, dramatically calls it “a sniper shot directed at the heart of every member of the publishing oligarchy” revelling in the aggressive, variable discounts Amazon offers customers and the fact that traditional book chains are allegedly boycotting it.

 

Lacy’s write is punctuated with some devastating input from an unnamed “publishing insider” and a handy comparison to the Best Buy nightmare, bringing it home to “the reason that publishers find themselves in a war of out-bidding for boneheaded celebrity books, eroding their own profit margins with every bid.”

It’s all about the sure thing now, she writes. Taking risks on “discovering, developing, and painstakingly promoting young talent” is out.

No author gets truly great editing out of publishing houses anymore, and most of the promotional work falls to the author once the book comes out — even when a major house has paid a healthy six-figure advance.

So the boneheaded celebrities?

Publishers can only be gutted by Amazon, because they put themselves in a position where cash advances and placement in bookstores were the only two things they brought to the table. And guess what? As Tim Ferriss’ moonwalking-blog attests, if you have Amazon, you don’t need either of those.

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Ferriss’ Wheel of Fortune: Full-Assed

To compete with monolithic forces that are banning my book due to my publisher (Amazon Publishing) — 1,000+ bookstores, including all of Barnes & Noble — I can’t play their game. I have to do things differently. It’s the Red Coats versus the colonies, and I must take attack using different means.

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

Tim Ferriss

It’s the Red Coats versus the colonies.

It’s the Red Coats versus the colonies.

I’m just savoring that one, aren’t you?

Thank God Tim Ferriss never wanders into hyperbole.

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, FutureBookAfter the fine round of comments and discussion that followed our Extra Ether: Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Banning post —  special thanks to Laura Hazard Owen for getting us all thinking — Ethernauts were probably less surprised than some folks at the antics of Tim Ferriss (yes, double “s”) around the launch of his The 4-Hour Chef.

His kick-off blog post, The 4-Hour Chef All-You-Can-Eat Campaign of Goodness, reads pretty close to a Seth Godin Kickstarter pitch. Buy 1,000 copies of his new book for $21,000 and get an all-expenses-paid trip with Ferriss somewhere.

I don’t half-ass trips. I don’t even three-quarter-ass trips. I full-ass my trips! This will be a life-changing, amazing, all-inclusive trip somewhere in the world. High probability: high-end trip through Tuscany, dates TBD with people who sign up.

At least the trip will be “somewhere in the world.” Those trips out of the world are tough.

 

Don’t you love that kind of talk? I’ve traveled all my life, and very far afield, as Ferriss likes to do. To say that I “full-ass my trips” never occurred to me. This must be why he sells all those books. Remind me to speak more frequently of my ass here on the Ether, will you? No more three-quarter-ass Ethers. This is full-ass Ether.

By the time I was led by Stacie Berger– blindfolded and then told to open my eyes — to that spectacular blog post — David Streitfeld had already taken to the Times to issue a pretty dire warning to writers everywhere in his Tim Ferriss and Amazon Try to Reinvent Publishing:

Mr. Ferriss…is enthusiastically holding contests and offering deals. Buy 25 physical books and get a bunch of bonuses, including a Kindle Fire. Interested in buying 4,000 copies? He’ll come speak at your conference. The author who does not hustle his book in similar ways will soon find himself on the virtual remainder shelf.

Well. Contests are one thing. But do all authors have to expect to use publicity shots that make them look like this?

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Tim Ferriss, all dressed up for his new The 4-Hour Chef, on his blog site.

Does that shot make you want to buy his book? Or any book? By anybody? For any reason?

Now I’m mad at Barnes and Noble. Just let him put the danged book on the shelves and get us out of this, will you? Full-ass.

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Craft: Go for Separate Accounting

Practically speaking, you’re more likely to see royalties and see them sooner if your books are separately accounted. If that first book takes off it’s easier to earn out $50,000 than $100,000 across two books.

Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford, former agent, now author and CNET social media comptroller-general, in Separate vs. Joint Accounting, has a highly practical take on multi-book deals.

Joint accounting means that your books are accounted together as one big advance. If you have a $100,000 two book deal (ha – do those still exist?), your books have to earn $100,000 in royalties before you see any additional money.

You don’t want joint accounting, Bransford writes. You want separate accounting. And in discussing the chances of getting separate accounting, he sticks up for his previous agent-colleagues.

This is something your agent can try to negotiate for you, but different houses have different policies, and it may not be possible to secure. So if your agent can’t get it for you it doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t doing their jobs. It might just not be possible to get.

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Craft: Why Do You Write?

When I was fifteen, my parents granted me the indulgence of letting a friend paint, in a nice cursive script, the final page of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha on the wall, floor to ceiling, facing my bed. I thought that constantly reading those mindful words would prompt some spiritual renaissance.

Tom Bentley

Charting his attachment to the world of words from boyhood, Tom Bentley in Why Do You Write? at Men With Pens recalls:

I came to see that the world of imagination is the biggest world there is, and that a writer can write to see the unexpected, to know the hidden, to do as Asimov suggested and “think through his fingers.” And that words can be so sensual you want to lick them.

It’s worth noting, too — since issues of fiction vs. nonfiction for male readers are on our agenda here today — that Bentley wasn’t headed into a bookish context with the how-to wrangler’s intent.

I saw evidence everywhere that people were storytellers. They have been storytellers for ages, whether the words were inscribed on resistant stone, delivered in a lilting voice or caught in an electronic dance. I knew I wanted to be a storyteller too. However, I was still striking the anvil of ideas with brute blows, yet to learn the deft stitching and tight knots in narrative’s fabric.

This is a quick read, efficient without sacrificing its heart. Bentley is a business writer, we read in his footer. “And fiction writer.”

I write because language is a bright bird, uncatchable, but worth every attempt.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

With this mix of insouciance and technological urgency, Brin and Page began to put their grand plan into place.

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Jeff John Roberts

Regular Ethernauts know Jeff John Roberts’ reporting at paidContent and GigaOM. He’s very legal, you know, an attorney-gone-journalistic. His piece on libel laws in the States and in the UK, Twitter is safer in America: lessons from two sex scandals, is a good example of the kind of good material he’s always into.

Now, he has a book out from GigaOM, and I’d like to call your attention to it.

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, FutureBookThe Battle for the Books: Inside Google’s Gambit to Create the World’s Biggest Library has just been released. You can read an excerpt from it here, in The technological imperative: An excerpt from The Battle for the Books.

That “technological imperative” phrase is one Roberts got from Stanford’s Prof. Terry Winograd:

A good source on why Google does what it does is Stanford professor Terry Winograd, who supervised Larry Page’s doctoral studies and worked with both Google founders on the school’s Digital Library Project…There was little romantic in Winograd’s description of the genesis of the audacious book-scanning plan. He portrayed a project born equally of scholarly idealism and a cold, futuristic determinism. “It’s an idea Larry and Sergey had from the very beginning. It’s an idea that there’s knowledge out there,” he recalled. “It’s the intellectual, technological imperative.”

And as Roberts points out a bit later in the excerpt, again echoing Winograd:

The authors and publishers who eventually sued Google over the book scanning would likely chafe at the notion that they are “transient social barriers,” but the Google founders’ attitude was not altogether unreasonable. A new technology had made it possible to create a vast library of the world’s books, so what was everyone waiting for?

| | |

As each week, the books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, 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: Remember Editors?

I want to preface the Ether’s closer today with a little background. The writer of this FutureBook blog post, The strange case of the drowning editor, uses the pseudonym Agent Orange for his or her occasional posts. I’m never pleased when someone hides behind a faux name like this.

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Image from TheFutureBook

As the nickname implies, Agent Orange is a literary agent. She or he is based in the UK. And I’ve had some fairly extensive correspondence back and forth with this person, so that I can verify for you that he or she is a known personality to me. She or he fears that his or her opinions can’t be rendered in public blog posts like this one without risking repercussions from publishers — repercussions that might affect this agent’s clients.

This time, she or he writes:

What can be the best job in publishing has become something like the opposite of that for many, many reasons.

 

While I’d much prefer identifying this agent for you, I do think it’s worth flagging his or her write-up here because it brings into wry focus a player on the publishing front we don’t hear or talk enough about: the editor. Agent Orange gives us five reasons that it’s pretty much hell to be an editor nowadays.

They include:

Everyone else does your job…Every single book is bought by committee – but of course the vast majority are rejected by committee and so the fundamental quality of an editor, their taste, is called into question time and time again by marketing, sales and publicity.

 

And:

Everyone has the right to do your job – you do not have the right to do theirs. Second guess the editor is a game everyone is allowed to join in on – new books have to have ‘buy in’ from everyone after all, so you can have your judgement publicly trashed by a semi literate knuckle dragger from another department, but woe betide the editor who puts that shoe on the other foot and suggests said knuckle dragger could be doing a better job.

And:

Responsibility without power. Editors are set budgetary targets, i.e,. have budgetary responsibility, but have nearly zero control over how that budget is reached.

This is the kind of sad but sobering humor we all need to take a little time for.

Editors have always been badly paid, but were respected and the job was rewarding in other ways. That feels like a hard argument to make in the current climate.

As much as we have to be thankful for, we need to remember that the industry we end up with on the other side of the digital dance should do better than perpetuate the editors’ bind described here.

And it should be a business in which agents speak their minds without hiding behind false identities.

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With special thanks, Ethernauts, for your faithful readership and superb cameo tweeterie.


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  • Tom Bentley

    Gosh Porter, that’s lovely that you put me in today’s parade; I would have worn silk had I known. Thanks for the nod, and a juicy Thanksgiving to you, and to Jane too!

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

    @google-d1ccfd8d9fd3c2b040b0bb1f0db6b2bd:disqus

    My pleasure, Tom, it’s a very nice piece, I was glad to find it. It got us past the woes of the industry! the industry! for a few minutes and back to writing. Thankful for that. :)
    Cheers for Thanksgiving, yourself!

    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/JustBethanne Bethanne Patrick

    Porter, I think we need to plan a panel… :)

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

    GREAT idea, @twitter-292899689:disqus

    Let’s do it! We can bring along large tom-turkeys and pardon the ones who read only nonfiction, like the president pardons one each year. Seriously, let’s look for a chance to “escalate” this issue, as you can tell, I think it’s a major one, as you do. Thanks again for prompting us all to put some needed thought into it — that’s what it takes to wake us all up.

    Cheers for Thanksgiving!

    -p.

  • Tom Bentley

    Thanks Porter. And in passing, I’m one of those not-quite-so-hidden-but-presumed-so fiction readers, nay, fiction lovers. And I am pals with more than a few of such fellows on a first-name (first page) basis. Here’s to the world of imagination, as real of a world as the one of spreadsheets and bedsheets.

  • http://twitter.com/petermccarthy Peter McCarthy

    As always, thanks for the well-researched round-up and for including your insightful thoughts on my Penguin/Random post in this edition. Just wanted to confirm that I did not see Levin’s piece prior to posting mine. Your pointing out how the two dovetail is great, though. Thanks again.

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

    @twitter-14190922:disqus

    Right back at you, thanks for the well-considered post, Peter, and the confirmation here, too. Look forward to seeing you in Conference Land early next year, too.
    Cheers,
    -p.

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

    @google-d1ccfd8d9fd3c2b040b0bb1f0db6b2bd:disqus

    Yeah, Tom, in fact I’ve just been told of a Houston men’s book club that’s been up and running — I’d have to check to be sure — for more than a decade. And they’re not just reading nonfiction, from what I’ve told, by a long shot. As I say, I think we all just fall into these easy assumptions because they help us quickly define things — it’s part of being in a marketing-dominated culture, where quick buzzword language helps us navigate without having to cope with gray areas. Good to remember from time to time that the best way to get around those cliches is to get specific with somebody, cuts right through the suppositions. Talking to myself here, too, I need to remember to recommend fiction to guys more frequently, to specific friends, I mean. Many in the news business read nothing but nonfiction because it’s closest to their work — I could do a lot better at opening them to some fiction they’d like, just have to make the effort.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Victoria Noe

    Full-assed Ether? What’s next – 50 Shades of Ether?

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