WRITING ON THE ETHER: Dissing Discoverability


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Table of Contents

  1. Discoverability: Dissing It
  2. Lawsuit: Love for Three Bookstores
  3. Process: How Foyles Structured Its Workshops
  4. And About Those Bookstores: Shatzkin
  5. ‘You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On’
  6. Bounford’s Bounty: Vignettist to the Conferences
  7. Paying for It: Popova and Her Revenue
  8. Craft: Editing ‘Myths and Misinformation’
  9. Craft: Are You a Writer or Not?
  10. Books: Reading on the Ether
  11. Carnival of Conferences
  12. Last Gas: Friedman by the Numbers

Discoverability: Dissing It

Nobody does it better. We, the people of the industry! the industry!, left on a desert island, would not only raze every palm tree by sunset but would somehow manage to blog about it, too.

My stumps are shorter than your stumps.

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13So it’s not surprising, maybe, that even as I wrote of “Discoveries about Discoverability”  in the fog of London for Tuesday’s Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives, more to-ing and fro-ing was in the offing.

It seems that a number of folks have some trouble with the perspective adjustment proposed at the delightful February 10 Book^2 Camp “unconference” during our unconversations.

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Briefly (undetails at those links above), it was put forward by some good heads among us that the problem of discovering the books one might want to read is not so much a dilemma for readers. They, those readers, don’t seem to be roaming the land bereft of reading material at all.

No, the concept set spinning like a child’s top on the conference tables before us was that discoverability is a bigger problem for publishers—because they need their books (as do authors) to be discovered by those readers. And the traditional publishers, as we know, are seen these days as old dogs trying to learn new tricks, such as how to fetch readers directly rather than chasing retailers and distributors down the street.

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Douglas McCabe

Now, we have Suw Charman-Anderson, no relation, who has come in, a bit ashen, with the word that Enders’ Douglas McCabe told everyone at TheMediaBriefing.com’s Digital Media Strategies confab earlier this week in London that Half of Amazon Book Sales are Planned Purchases.

Oh, my God, and yours, too! 

I’ll give you a few minutes to jump up, run around the room wailing, cut down a few palm trees, then join me back here.

Welcome back.

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Peter Hildick-Smith

What Charman-Anderson is ferrying to us from McCabe apparently is the work of Peter Hildick-Smith’s Codex Group. Hildick-Smith, of course, was on the Digital Book World 2013 program last month.

About five Ethers ago.

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Len Edgerly

You can see a quite comprehensive live blog of Hildick-Smith’s #DBW13 talk thanks to Len Edgerly, at his The Kindle Chronicles.

And Steve Parks of Wunderroot has handily captured a round of tweets and images from the McCabe presentation in Media Strategy: The Data.

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Steve Parks

McCabe’s presentation slide “Book choosing methods on Amazon.com, May 2012,” indicates that Codex Group sees 48 percent of people surveyed choosing books on Amazon by means of a “planned search”—they knew what they were looking for.

Some 10 percent of respondents seem to have been influenced by the “Customers who bought this also bought that” recommendation service on Amazon.

Promotions, deals, and low prices are said to have influenced 12 percent; Top-100 bestseller lists, another 17 percent.

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Suw Charman-Anderson

Charman-Smith opines that this 48-percent “planned search” data “has huge implications.”

But, then, here comes Los Angeles’ Chris McVeigh in hot pursuit on TheFutureBook blogs.

He’s ready to joust with Charman-Anderson on “these huge implications.”

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Chris McVeigh

In The shocking truth : Book buyers have minds of their own, McVeigh lays out those twice-removed figures about Amazon shoppers—Peter Hildick-Smith’s work begat Douglas McCabe’s presentation begat Charman-Anderson’s alarm.

McVeigh weighs in:

The simple fact that 48 percent of your customers are making their buying decisions before they even enter the Amazon eco-system is a screaming endorsement of the need to find your audience and engage with them before they even get close to clicking on that Amazon link.

And that is, after all, the Book^2 Campers’ assertion, you see: The readers know what they’re going for. The publishers may be the ones who don’t.

 

McVeigh goes on in his understated, reserved way:

Now perhaps I’m missing something, maybe there really are hordes of parsimonious consumers spending hours wandering around high street book stores, scanning barcodes and checking the prices against Amazon in the hope of saving themselves a few quid. Or, and stop me if I’m being all wacky here, could they perhaps be “PLUGGING SOME WORDS INTO GOOGLE” and seeing who and what comes out near the top? Could they be hanging out on Twitter and making direct relationships with authors? Could they be talking with other readers on sites like Goodreads and Bookish? Could they in other words be acting just like you and I do?

Well, they won’t be talking to other readers on Bookish, which isn’t a social site.

But even as he fairly screams his sarcasm at us, McVeigh is landing his blows near a point I think we forget to make. And I’m going to put it in slightly different terms than he uses (and without yelling in all-caps, too): we need to hold the reader more responsible than we do.

We tend to infantilize the reader, as if he or she has no concept of how to find the books he or she wants, poor misguided half-wit that she or he is.

I’m over it. If our fine readers don’t take the time to learn how to use their smartphones well, what do they get?—frustrated, of course, and they turn into these irritating people who whine that their phones are “too complicated” and demand too much of them.

 

And, likewise, if our readers don’t learn to utilize the tech staring them in the face to mount a search on Amazon that allows for discovery, why isn’t it their fault?

                    • If they don’t take advantage of the “Customers who bought this also bought that” functionif they don’t start out with an idea of what they want and allow the machines to show them some potential optionsis it really the fault of the online world?
                    • If cyberspace fails to be the time-wasting stagger-down-the-aisles-and-sit-on-the-bookstore-floor-reading approach of the bookshop, I say bravo for asking us to get a grip, get off the floor, think for ourselves, do a little research, use the damned samples, and order and buy books like discerning readers do, not like sheep who backed into the Philosophy session and fell over what Sartre meant about responsibility.

McVeigh puts it this way, emphasis mine:

Imagine a world where our customers act just like we do. They talk with their friends just like we do, they listen to the views of those they respect just like we do, they get together with like minded people, just like we do – they use Google as a sixth sense just like we do. If 48 percent of book buyers are making buying decisions before they even get to Amazon then surely it makes sense for publishers to find out where their customers are making those decisions and to make sure that they’re part of that decision-making process.

He likes to say that publishers (like authors who are trying to reach their potential readers) must get to their audiences before somebody else does.

I agree. I just want to take it a step farther and put some pressure back on the reader.

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Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women. This one releases in paperback on February 26.

Show me a reader who can’t manage to fall over the next Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women erotic romance she might like online, and I’ll show you a reader I don’t want.

Here’s what Charman-Anderson gets right:

Self-published authors have limited resources for promotion, and these figures show that you should focus not on trying to woo Amazon’s algorithm, but on building awareness outside of Amazon. Rather than hoping to gain traction within that 10 percent of people who pay attention to Amazon’s recommendations, or trying to crowbar your title into bestseller or Top 100 lists, you should be focusing on building an independent fan base. No one can search for your books if they don’t know you exist.

She’s wrong only in that she assigns this advice to self-published authors. Get past the us-vs.-them mentality, and you realize that this is what any entrepreneurial author—self-published, traditionally published, or hybrid—must do: raise an audience, build a community.

 

Bookstores may never have been so perfect an answer to the discoverability dilemma as we like to think. As folks at the Foyles workshop in London were saying, hand-selling seems to be far rarer even in many independent stores than we like to say it is these days. And how many readers who won’t pick up a book online are going to get into the car and give up an afternoon barging around the aisles of a Barnes and Noble to find a book?  #Cmonson.

Let’s make this week’s manic mantra something along these lines: Discoverability is more a problem for publishers than readers and those readers have a responsibility in all this, too. It’s called thinking for themselves. And it makes them good readers.

Now, go chop down that palm tree.

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Lawsuit: Love for Three Bookstores

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Prokofiev would love this latest satirical opera of ours.

And “never in my wildest dreams,” as they say in Greenville, South Carolina—where I went to Gen. Wade Hampton High—might I have imagined a bookstore there, one Fiction Addiction, as it’s called, teaming up with a store in Manhattan and another in Albany to sue not only the Big Six publishers but also the Bezosian Realm Almighty.

In fact, those wildest dreams knew Amazon only as a river in Brazil. Piranha. Rainforests. Summertime humidity not quite as bad as Greenville’s.

 

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13But here we are, watching the potentially Quixotic spectacle of three bookstores scraping together a class-action suit.

Laura Hazard Owen has details in her write at paidContent. She goes immediately for a  subtle flaw in the premise here:

While the case names only the big-six publishers as defendants, Amazon places its DRM on nearly all of its ebooks from all publishers.

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13In other words, the suit’s complain seems oddly aimed at the Big Six and Amazon—those publishers aren’t the only ones whose ebooks are sold with Amazon’s proprietary AZW DRM. As Owen goes on to write:

The filing says that big-six publishers, through their contracts with Amazon that allow for Amazon’s proprietary DRM on their ebooks, “unreasonably restrain trade and commerce in the market for ebooks” in violation of the Sherman Act,” and claims “consumers have been injured because they have been deprived of choice and also denied the benefits of innovation and competition resulting from the foreclosure of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.”

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Michael Cader, writing up the story at Publishers Lunch in Three Independent Bookstores File Class Action Suit Against Amazon and Big Six, Seeking Removal of eBook DRM, describes the extrapolation that underlies the suit’s rationale:

By the lawsuit’s account, the reason independents have not made a dent in [the] ebook market is because of Amazon’s proprietary AZW DRM–”specifically designed to limit the use of digital content after sale for all of the e-books published by the big six”–and because “none of the Big Six have entered into any agreements with any independent brick and mortar bookstores or independent collectives to sell their ebooks.”

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13It may be worth noting the sloppy writing in the court papers, as Cader quotes them: “Big Six” is inconsistently capitalized. And that phrase should be “none of the Big Six has entered into any agreements,” not “have.” Does this matter? Yes. Good writing matters. Especially when it represents book people turning on other book people in a class-action suit. If we can’t expect quality writing in such a scenario, when can we expect it? We’ll hear from Keith Cronin on this later in the Ether du jour.

Cader goes on to observe:

The filing does not indicate what they make of Google eBooks, which only sold through independents when it was established, or Kobo’s initiative in concert with the ABA–or Ingram’s longstanding program to sell ebooks to independent retailers.

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The 1982 Glyndebourne production of L’Amour des Trois Oranges featured set and costume designs by Maurice Sendak.

And as Owen writes:

Many independent bookstores may lack the technical knowledge and infrastructure to be able to sell ebooks straight from the publishers, but the filing doesn’t get into details on exactly how such a system would work. [Alyson] Decker [the Blecher & Collins attorney for the case] said she couldn’t comment specifically on the type of “open-source DRM” that the plaintiffs seek.

So here’s another fine distraction on the way to the future.

If the energy of this litigation effort went into selling books instead…well, did I mention satirical opera, Mr. Prokofiev?

Related reading: Having just spoken at O’Reilly Tools of Change’s Author (R)evolution Day (#ARDay) on DRM and more, Cory Doctorow looks at this story and writes: Indie booksellers sue Amazon and big publishers over DRM (but have no idea what “DRM” and “open source” mean).

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Process: How Foyles Structured Its Workshops

In my Tuesday Ether for Authors write-up at Publishing Perspectives on the Foyles “bookshop of the future” workshops, I mentioned a process devised by the London independent bookstore’s marketing czarina Miriam Robinson for her two workshops co-sponsored with The Bookseller.

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Miriam Robinson

Today, I thought I’d run over that process for you quickly because it proved to be surprisingly successful in pulling together a round of recommendations from a lot of eager-to-help folks in a limited time-frame.

Here are the basic elements of that six-hour workshop process.

The invitational workshops included what Felicity Capon and Fiona Baird of the Telegraph describe in ‘Bookshop of the future’ one step closer to realisation as:

Authors, poets, sales directors, librarians, booksellers, technology developers, publicists and literary agents.

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A page from one group’s brain-storming session at Foyles.

Customers were invited to participate, as well, Robinson tells me, not just industry folks—and more shoppers are coming in to speak with the staff about plans on special “bookshop planning evenings.”

When we arrived, our nametags already had assigned us to one of eight groups of about six people each. There were initial comments from Foyles and Bookseller folks such as Sam Husain and Philip Jones, plus the architectural firm’s Alex Lifschutz.

Then Robinson’s program had the groups create a first round of ideas.

                    1. Each group chose a member to take notes. And each group had been asked to focus on one of three overall topics—Discovery and Choice; Bookshops as Cultural Destinations; or Diversification of Products and Services.
                    2. After about an hour, each group pitched its ideas to another group to get the reactions of another team.
                    3. The original groups then chose another theme and generated ideas on it, and then pitched those ideas to a third group, again to get input from a team that hadn’t been privy to the discussion.
                    4. So when the groups then gathered to prepare their presentations to the overall workshop, they’d each had two rounds of idea-generation and feedback on two different focal themes. They chose what had come through the pitch process most reliably as their offers to the wider group.
                    5. And then each group presented its results for only four minutes to the overall workshop, making specificity and brevity priorities.

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Robinson’s team now is beginning to make some of the early brainstorming materials available at the store’s Facebook site, and will be formulating a summation of what the workshops have produced for the Foyles site.

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Foyles’ Miriam Robinson gives up her shoe secret to the Ether.

And Robinson’s yellow shoes, which caused some stir in the room Friday? Are from De Bonis Orquera Zapatos in Buenos Aires.

I’m recommending Foyles just turn the third floor of the new facility into a shoe department and be done with it.

Note: Our Epilogger continues to run on the Foyles “bookshop of the future” project as the store develops the workshop results for presentation to the public.

 

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And About Those Bookstores: Shatzkin

The notion that indie stores can beat Amazon at online selling is nothing short of preposterous.

I found myself saying something similar to members of one of the Foyles workshop groups on Friday. What Mike Shatzkin is saying here is dead right. And in some cases it might be the kind of thing some of the store owners need to hear so they feel it’s okay to stop thinking about the impossible and start considering prudent, practicable moves.

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Mike Shatzkin

Shatzkin’s Some ideas for publishers that will help bookstores; other suggestions that make us skeptical follows The Bookseller’s Philip Jones’ Books need bookshops.

What indie stores can do, and should do, is offer an online sales capability to allow the customers they have who want to express their loyalty to do their online shopping with them. And they should do that in the simplest and easiest way possible. To the extent that the store has done curation work (store bestseller lists, recommendations from staff or customers), those should certainly be reflected online. But the notion that a single player can beat an online behemoth at the behemoth’s own game is a delusion and no great effort should be wasted on it.

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Philip Jones

He also touches on something I found a difficult—and all but unavoidable, by the way—pitfall in thinking about the “bookshop of the future.”

The idea that bookstores become something other than bookstores…is also not really much help. If not a “bookstore”, what, exactly? And if you can’t tell somebody “what, exactly”, then how is this advice anything more than a suggestion to keep throwing stuff at a wall until something sticks? That’s a strategy? Bookstores have already and always been “community gathering centers”. Playing up that piece of it is never a bad idea, but it hardly seems like an original one.

Where Shatzkin puts his emphasis here is on two suggestions: “to provide the stores inventory with more time to pay (consignment or extended payment terms) or more margin to work with.” These are areas in which he explores publishers’ work with bookstores (which those publishers need, let us remember). Here “co-op”—from the term “cooperative”—comes into play, meaning the publisher’s opportunity to buy prime placement for a book in stores.

Including the point that “Sometimes the sale-and-return convention that has prevailed for nearly a century in the US book business is thought of as equivalent to consignment, but it isn’t,” Shatzkin’s consideration of the bookstore in relation to publishers is useful.

The bottom line is that publishers can help stores most by helping them carry their inventory less expensively and there are a great variety of ways to do that.

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‘You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On’

I do not see very many book industry people approaching the Web. But the Web is certainly approaching the book industry.

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Laura Dawson

In her look-back at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC), Tools of Change 2013: You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, Laura Dawson gets at one of the more maddening elements of the moment of transition in which we find ourselves.

It’s not enough to digitize text, wrap it in DRM, and sell it. The Web demands more than a silo’d experience. It demands interconnectivity. Links. Since the inception of the Web, content of all kinds has not simply been digitized, but contextualized by open-ended conversations with other content. An ebook is a closed system. The Web is open – and when it encounters a closed system, it tends to find ways to open it.

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 DayDawson’s point is at the heart of one of the most difficult leaps for publishers to contemplate, yes. In fact, I’d say this is also a hard one for many authors to consider. The “open book” as Dawson and others call it, lives in rapid-fire interconnectivity on the Internet, it’s a quasi mutable product, as such, available if not outright vulnerable to the regard and impact of others.

Opening up content – willingly or unwillingly – means a lack of control of that content. And dialing back “control” to mere “participation” is an idea that’s extremely tough for traditional publishers to get comfortable with. For 500 years, publishers have been broadcasting, not conversing. But the Web is a conversation.

 

Her presentation at TOC (following her session at O’Reilly’s landmark Author (R)evolution Day)  drew some resistance.

 I was satisfied with the response because it confirmed for me the difficulties that traditional publishers are having. I was also saddened by it, of course. But those emotions don’t get us very far. What does get us far is simply putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing. It’s not romantic, but it’s movement. And it’s how real progress happens. 

Note: You can access TOC’s collected materials—videos, presentations, and more—through its main conference portal here. Presenter and speaker materials (slide decks, videos), including those from our Author (R)evolution Day events are on this page. Our Epilogger on the event has continued collecting post-conference materials, now with more than 14,500 tweets. 

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Bounford’s Bounty: Vignettist to the Conferences

The most difficult part of the day so far has been agonising over the choice of which session. There’s so much on offer I want to be in at least two places at once all day. And a third part of me would like to be a fly on the wall for the Author (R)evolution day going on. It shows just how far the world is moving (in the right direction) that authors have a place at this conference.

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Waiting for the first plenary to start at TOC, from left, Kate Pullinger, vignettist Sheila Boundford, and Don Linn.

This is London-based publishing consultant Sheila Bounford writing #ToCcon Post 1: Choices, one of several vignettes from her first O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference last week in New York. What’s great for those of us who have attended TOC for years—and who have tried and failed to explain to newcomers what an overwhelming set of great choices they’re about to face—is to see someone as astute as Bounford confront this amazingly rich menu of offerings (up to five breakout events occur simultaneously, more if you count the sponsored sessions). 

Here’s a cool parallel she finds in historical disruption to our own, for example, in the second of her pieces, #ToCcon Post 2: When is a book not a book?

Coming out of the Book Sprints session at #ToCcon I find myself thinking about Wolf Hall. Given [Hilary] Mantel’s reputation for long and meticulous research, this might seem a bit paradoxical. She certainly doesn’t go from zero to book in five days. However there is a link. One of the most powerful impressions Wolf Hall created in me, was a real sense of how disruptive the printing press was to the status quo.

 

There are more, including #toccon 3: A Tale of Two (Capital) Cities and #toccon 4: Bridging Gulfs of Understanding and even a very apt meditation on a correlation Bounford drew between the role of a publisher and that of the Yoshio Taniguchi building that houses the Museum of Modern Art, #ToCcon: A (useful?) digression.

Good reading, less fraught than so much of our community’s writings around such intense conference weeks.

Additional Reading: In Author platforms and the Black Box Effect, Anne Hill follows up on TOC’s Author (R)evolution Day (#ARDay): “We are further along than many authors realize.” 

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Paying for It: Popova and Her Revenue

There’s been a lot of sound and fury recently about a blogger named Maria Popova, who makes her living by curating links to smart content on her Brain Pickings blog. Popova has been quite vocal about how she doesn’t like traditional advertising and instead relies on donations from her readers, in much the same way that former Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan now does. But that commitment was recently challenged by an anonymous critic who noted that Popova also gets revenue from affiliate links to sites like Amazon — and the resulting debate says a lot about the future of both content and advertising.

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Maria Popova, in her appearance at O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing 2013, wearing her trademark yellow.

Mathew Ingram‘s timing at paidContent with this story a week ago was interesting.  ran less than two hours after Popova spoke at the Tools of Change Conference, giving the last keynote address of the whole event.

As Maria Popova—whom you may know better as the Brainpicker—took to the stage at Tools of Change to make a somewhat oblique case about the difficulty of supporting a career on the web, the “anonymous critic” whom  Ingram mentions already had  launched his challenge.

“This tension between the editorial side and the business side,” is how Popova refers to the problem of how journalistic effort is to be supported in her talk. 

Here is the video of her Tools of Change address, which was made at about 2:30 p.m. ET in New York on February 14.

Her presentation rolled out a series of anecdotes representative of various moments that have played a role in such questions as syndication’s contribution to homogenized media and the effects that the demands of social-media may have on writing, itself.

Popova referred to the late author and journalist E.B. White (he died in 1985), and her presentation included this quote from him:

A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

Love the quote. Love the concept and what appears to be Popova’s intention. She’s absolutely right when she says: “When public opinion begins to shape what we call journalism, then that’s a dangerous thing” (at about seven minutes into the TOC tape).

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Mathew Ingram

Ironically, as she spoke on Valentine’s Day, almost no one in the TOC audience would have known that Palo Alto’s Tom Bleymaier (Ingram identifies him in his write-up) was calling Popova’s methods into question.

Ingram writes:

The anonymous blogger [later revealed to be Bleymaier] extrapolated from Popova’s traffic numbers and estimated that she could generate between $200,000 and $400,000 a year from those links. Given that kind of income — from something that is pretty clearly a form of advertising, although perhaps a non-traditional one — the Tumblr critic argued that Popova’s claim to be “advertising free” is clearly inaccurate.

In retrospect, Popova seems to have spent her keynote time on TOC’s stage laying some groundwork for her own defense.

She mentioned, as she has in the past, working 12-18 hours a day on the site.

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Maria Popova’s chart at Tools of Change representing her costs for running Brain Pickings.

The visuals in her video include a very BrainPickings.org-style chart of what she describes as her expenses.

Web hosting, email and newsletter delivery, WordPress backup, books (many of which are out of print) , administrative costs, and data plans are represented, she said, in a $3,600 monthly tab for the site—not including “the man hours or woman hours I put into doing it.”

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In this version of her costs chart, Popova adds what she estimates a minimum wage would pay her for doing Brain Pickings, taking the site from a cost of $3,600 monthly to $6,915.

“Even with a conservative estimate of the hours, and if I were to pay myself a minimum working wage ($8.50/hour in New York, she says)…it would be about $7,000 a month to run it” or $6,915 by her calculations.

This is not always what she talks about from a podium.

I heard Popova speak in a salon at the Museum of Modern Art last fall with MoMA’s research and development director Paola Antonelli. There, her talk was about the role of curation, not about the finances of “non-ad-supported” journalism.

In this criticism now aimed at her, the crux of the matter is disclosure. Popova has maintained that Brain Pickings is “ad-free.” But affiliate links are considered by many to be a form of advertising. 

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Felix Salmon

Reuters’ Felix Salmon ran his own piece—also on the 14th of the month, the day Popova spoke at TOC—Blogonomics, Maria Popova edition.

In that article, Salmon points out that he can’t understand how Popova can find “450+ hours a month to curate and edit,” because she also edits at Explore.

Indeed, Salmon makes it clear that he appreciates her work, writing:

Popova provides a valuable service to the web, and she also seems to have worked out a highly-successful business model. We should be celebrating the kind of money that Popova is making — I certainly don’t begrudge it — rather than seeing her try very hard to make it seem that she’s less successful than she is.

Salmon does also, however, write: “As recently as a couple of months ago, Popova was found to be behind skeevy SEO sites like curesleepapnea.com, gastricbypassrisk.com, and liposuctionrisksinfo.com.”

And:

She links to Fab sales from her Twitter feed as well…and gets a percentage of all those revenues too. With more than 300,000 followers on Twitter, a 0.1% conversion rate means 300 sales, and potentially thousands of dollars of income from just one tweet.

 

Salmon goes on not only to link to the tweet above, but also to attach a very long letter Popova has sent to him. She states in that letter:

I’ve been completely honest about the Amazon links with anyone who’s ever asked – and have many, many, many emails I’m happy to forward – and have brought it up myself multiple times in talks and on Twitter.

Indeed, Popova now has updated her site to reveal, rightly, that she uses affiliate links for the small kickbacks they can offer when someone buys something linked from her site.

I’m surprised to read Salmon writing that such an affiliate means “a big chunk of any money you end up spending on Amazon that session is going to make its way back to Popova.” I have not known anybody who saw “big chunks” of such expenditures, although I’ve been close to no one with a following the size of Popova’s reported 1.2 million readers.

I use such affiliate links, myself. And here at JaneFriedman.com, there’s a disclosure page that Friedman correctly uses to say clearly that she, I, and others at the site are using such links. Likewise, I have a disclosure page at my own site, PorterAnderson.com to make clear the same thing, not only about links to Amazon for books but also to RescueTime, an online-time-management service I like very much, and codes for discounts at some of the conferences I cover. They occasionally  provide a small amount of shared revenue for me when someone registers using my code.

The use of affiliate links isn’t uncommon, but disclosure is important for all of us. What’s more, Ingram points out that “this kind of disclaimer is arguably required by law, due to FTC regulations on disclosing marketing-related content.”

He sums it up well:

The main point that Salmon makes in his post on the issue is a good one: namely, that if you are relying on donations from your fans for your livelihood — as [Andrew] Sullivan is, and others such as musician Amanda Palmer are — then it behooves you to be as open as possible about your financial arrangements, in the interests of increasing the trust your readers or fans have in you.

I’d amend that only to say that even a small amount of revenue from an affiliate or other arrangement requires disclosure. It’s never wrong to be clear with your followers and readers.

Note: Maria Popova is now signed to appear at GigaOM’s April 17 daylong paidContent Live conference in New York. She’s to be in a session with Andrew Sullivan. Should be very interesting. 

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Craft: Editing ‘Myths and Misinformation’

In these days of self-publication and “service” publishers — who take a percentage of sales for letting the author do all of the work — you hear this a lot. “I’ve slaved over this manuscript for years. I checked it through a hundred times. Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar comes up clean. It’s ready for publication.”

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David Kudler

Editor David Kudler of San Francisco is biased, yes. But so should we all be—about seeing that our work is edited.

Look at J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Pretty good book, and it’s sold millions of copies, absolutely — but it’s at least a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There’s needless repetition, uneven pacing, and side-plots that go nowhere. You’ll notice that the previous and subsequent books in the bestselling series were much shorter and much tighter. Rowling worked more closely with her editors.

In his guest post for Joel Friedlander, Seven Deadly Myths and Three Inspired Truths About Book Editing, Kudler takes apart a lot of the excuses you hear “on the street” from folks who don’t want to go to the expense and trouble (and, yes, the implied criticism, at times) of having professional edits done on their work.

In addition to marking it up, a good substantive or developmental editor will make lots of queries (questions for the author) on the manuscript, where a copy editor will mostly clean up the language as-is, and a proofreader is usually purely focused on correcting any errors of usage or formatting. These are different approaches to your work.

 

In addition to parsing the types of edits and editors you may encounter, Kudler also has some advice on just how to find the editorial power your particular work needs. I like this piece because it doens’t just stop with “you should” but also tells you “this is how”:

The best way to hire the right editor is probably to talk to any other writers you know and ask for recommendations…Get some candidates, tell them exactly how long the manuscript is and what kind of edit you are looking for (see #3 above), and give them a short sample — five to ten pages should do. Ask them to edit it and give you a quote for the whole project, as well as an idea of how long it would take them. You might also ask them if there’s a particular style manual they like to use.

And the “truths” he brings in at the end are as reassuring as they’re meant to be. Take just one:

Editors love books. Really. They do. Trust me — we don’t get into the business for the money or the fame. We become editors because we love words and we love books: books as objects, books as art, books as treasure boxes of the human mind and spirit. We’re editing your book because that’s our job, and because we care about it.

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Craft: Are You a Writer or Not?

The vast majority of people out there are not terribly good writers. Writing is a skill that requires hard work and/or talent. Not everybody has that talent, or the willingness to do the work. As a result,good writing stands out. Always. Whether it’s a short story, a novel, an office email, a query letter, or a mere Facebook post, good writing stands out.

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Keith Cronin

While I’m gratified at several kind mentions from my Writer Unboxed colleague Keith Cronin in his article Write Like You Mean It, he does a lot to enrich my own message in my own Maybe If We Tried Writing Well.

Cronin takes on the issue of sloppy writing on the Internet. Rightly, he’s having none of it.

This has always baffled me when I encounter such carelessness in a writers’ forum – after all, an environment like that offers a chance to demonstrate your own writing skill to your peers, as well as to those further along in the publication journey. I think it stems from this: most people think there are times when writing well matters, and times when it doesn’t. I submit that if you’re aspiring to be a professional writer, there’s never a time when writing well doesn’t matter.

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The funny Facebook status that famous writer posted this morning? There’s a good chance it took her three or four drafts to get the humor right. That insightful remark another famous writer made on somebody’s blog? It’s not unlikely that he typed it in a word-processor first, then tweaked and spell-checked it. Maybe I’m wrong about how many tries it took them, but one thing is clear: they put the work into expressing themselves well, whether it was their first draft or their fourth.

In fact, building on what Cronin is saying, I’m never sure why a supposedly good writer wouldn’t always write well. The better you are, the less tolerance you’re likely to have for lazy, slipshod work. I’m with Cronin when he writes that even a brief lapse is an opportunity missed.

Like my close personal friend Nathaniel Hawthorne always says, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

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Books: Reading on the Ether

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Hogan’s new Sistine is joined by Man Out of Time and Burial of the Dead.

You can read more about this development at the Rogue site.

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As each week, the books you see below have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, or in my tweets.

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

 


Writing on the Ether Sponsors

 

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Carnival of Conferences

As usual, please let me know of conferences you’d like me to consider listing though my site’s contact page. And for more about these, see my site’s page on publishing conferences.

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LAST DAY TODAY, Thursday February 21 Indie ReCon online — see the schedule of online events: “IndieReCon is a free, online conference…designed to help any writer or author who is curious about the ins and outs of indie publishing. You’ll find everything from the pros and cons of indie publishing, essential aspects in creating a high-quality book, successful online marketing, and expanding into international markets…We will feature more than 30 guests, including…Darcy Chan, CJ Lyons, Bob Mayer, Hugh Howey, M. Leighton, and Samantha Young.”

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March 6-9 Boston AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to icy Chicago (it looked like 40,000 attendees when everybody’s coats were on), and, per its copy on the site this year, AWP “typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The labyrinthine book fair is said to have featured some 600 exhibitors last year. The program is a service-organization event of campus departments, hence the many (many) readings by faculty members and a frequently less-than-industry-ready approach that worries some of us about real-world training the students may be missing.

 

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April 5-7 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East: Author James Scott Bell, who knows the value of coffee, gives the opening keynote address this year at “one of the most popular writing and publishing conference in the U.S. Writer’s Digest Conference 2013 is coming back to New York at the Sheraton New York Hotel. Whether you are developing an interest in the craft of writing, seeking an agent or editor and publisher for your work, or a veteran hoping to keep current on the latest and best insights into reaching a broader readership, Writer’s Digest Conference is the the best event of its kind on the East Coast.”  (Note that this year’s hashtag is #WCE.)

 

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13April 14 London Digital Minds Conference at the QEII Conference Center: Author Neil Gaiman gives the keynote address in this fifth year of the Digital Minds program. Also included are Small Demons’ Richard Nash, Safari’s Pablo Defendini, Osprey’s Rebecca Smart, Dosdoce’s Javier Celaya, Valobox’s Anna Lewis, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Penguin’s Molly Barton and Eric Huang, Poetica’s Blaine Cook, and more.The conference is in the “pre-day” to the Fair, as Author (R)evolution Day was set on the pre-day to Tools of Change in New York this year.

 

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, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13April 15-17 London Book Fair at Earls Court.  “The London Book Fair encompasses the broad spectrum of the publishing industry and is the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.” This year’s Fair includes an AuthorLounge “curated” (oh, that word) by Authoright, touted as “the inspiring new space at the book fair for authors.”

 

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April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media industry Brisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts (in history’s most difficult interview), Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, the two people the law says absolutely must be in every publishing conference, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn.

 

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 May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.

Grub StreetMay 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridburg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program. It’s material reads tells us that organizers plan more than “110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. The Manuscript Mart, the very popular and effective one-on-one manuscript reviews with agents and editors, will also span 3 days. We expect nearly 800 writers and publishing professionals to attend, while maintaining the conference’s wonderfully intimate, ‘grubby’ energy that we love.”

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Last Gas: Friedman by the Numbers

It’s almost a running joke. Whenever my manager introduces me at an event, he always starts by saying how many Twitter followers I have, which is inevitably far more than anyone else in the room. Today, my follower number is a little over 175,000, and it grows by a few hundred every week.

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Jane Friedman

But before she’s done with How I Got a Six-Figure Twitter Following (and Why It Doesn’t Matter), Ether host and VQR Digital Editor Jane Friedman has done what precious few high-ranking (yea, Twitter-verified) online personalities will do: She has taken apart the standard perceptions of her major position on the web and produced a far clearer picture than we normally get of what the big numbers mean.

My blog content reinforced what I was doing on Twitter, and what I was doing on Twitter reinforced the blog. I created a rather virtuous circle that I believe boosted the follower count. But most important, the Best Tweets round-up wasn’t about myself or my own content. It was about drawing attention to other excellent work, which resulted in a lot of mentions, links, tweets, and so on.

 

Friedman analyzes how her following was built. The Best Tweets weekly  column, as she points out, gave way to Writing on the Ether when she invited me aboard in August 2011. And both our efforts in this space, of course, have aimed to point out and discuss others’ work, the new and commentary that never stops in publishing.

My following is more accurately stated as 71,750, after you weed out the fake and inactive accounts. Of those “good” accounts that follow me, how many do I actually engage? Klout notes that, in the past 90 days, I’ve had more than 2,000 mentions and 1,000 retweets. That’s probably a better reflection of how many I influence via Twitter.

Using a service called Faker Scores, Friedman shows you what percentage of her following may be, in fact, inactive accounts and so on. The more reliable figure, a bit more than half of her reported following, comes from that exercise and is highly revealing.

 

She also tips you off to how to run this check on your own stats and see where you stand.

Debunking the big numbers is, as I’ve said, not something a lot of high-flyers want to do, but Friedman is hardly rank-and-file in this business and, as she’s done so frequently before, she comes through here with the kind of realistic explication we all need to get a grip.

She concludes with typical modesty, as if 71,750 “good” follows weren’t compelling:

And now you know not to be impressed by that 175,000 number. 

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Main image: iStockphoto: JoelBlit

 

  • http://twitter.com/DavidGaughran David Gaughran

    Hi Porter,

    I couldn’t disagree more with the conclusions regarding Amazon customers – namely that if 48% of purchases on Amazon are pre-planned, publishers (and esp. self-publishers) should intercept readers before they even get to the store.

    I fear I’m stating the obvious, but 52% of purchases are *not planned* – which is a HUGE amount – and they are coming from books readers stumble upon around the site in Also Boughts, Search, Top 100, Kindle Daily Deals etc.

    The problem isn’t discoverability, it’s visibility.

    Digital distribution is open, but all chokepoints haven’t vanished. There’s only a limited amount of visibility on Amazon. There’s only 100 spots on the Best Seller list. There’s only one (well, three now) Kindle Daily Deal.

    IMO, the most cost-effective, time-effective, and straight up effective approach for self-publishers is to do the exact opposite of what Charman-Anderson suggests. They should break down the algorithms. They should understand how Sales Rank works (the widespread lack of knowledge on this basic part of Amazon’s system is shocking). They should understand how the various Best Seller lists work. They should understand what the Popularity list is, and how that leads to sales spikes when coming off a free run.

    Once you understand how Amazon’s system works, you will make very different business decisions.

    Here’s an example. The name of the publisher/book escapes me, but last summer there was a bit of a to-do when a free book promotion on Apple caused one (traditionally published) author’s book to go free at Amazon.

    The book garnered thousand and thousands of downloads and shot up the free charts. The publisher started freaking out, and pulled the book from sale completely. Had they left it on sale, Amazon would have stopped price-matching a couple of days later and the book would have bounced up the paid charts because of the way the Popularity List treats free downloads.

    That decision cost the publisher thousands of dollars. Maybe a lot more.

    Dave

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

    @twitter-287409342:disqus

    Hey, Dave!

    Thanks for this good and thorough comment.

    I do understand what you’re saying very well, and, as you know I bow to your really extensive knowledge of Amazon’s system and how to navigate it. Your lead on this has been tremendous for so many.

    In fact, I wouldn’t disagree with a thing you’re saying “once on Amazon,” if you will — by which I mean to say that for that 52 percent of the audience, I’m with you. (And who knows how accurate these percentages are from Codex Group we’re just using them as the arguing pivots for now, which is fine.) For the readers who ARE on Amazon and ARE susceptible to the algorithmic forces and sales and specials and rankings, etc., absolutely, you’re right.

    The reason I agree with what Charman-Anderson is saying for this other alleged group, however, that supposed 48 percent, is that I think I see a lot of writers putting all their eggs into the algorithmic basket.

    Unlike you, they may not be writing very good books, in fact, because they’re convinced that sheer algorithmic placement and manipulation can ratchet their books up to whatever level they want to hit. Unlike you, with the quality of what you’re writing and the targeted nature of your material, they’re not “niching” (I made that up as a verb) their material toward an audience that finds a ready reason to search them out.

    This comes down to the fact that in a great deal of book work — genre, literary, or nonfiction — we’re talking about two things: the book as product (algorithmically leveraged) and the book as a work of communication, as story, as a meaningful message. That second classification, the book as meaningful message of some kind, is where author platforming — community development, reader outreach, interactive citizenship come into play.

    And if, as Codex Group thinks, some half of the potential audience may be susceptible to that sort of communicative development, then I’m really interested in seeing authors get to that audience in that way and not leave it all to the algorithmic intelligence you’re talking about bringing to the table.

    In short, I’m looking for the best of both sides of the selling dynamic and the side closer to my own proclivities, the “art,” if you will, the meaningful-message element, appears to me — correct me if I’m wrong — closer to the approach of audience development and community cultivation than to algorithmic action.

    I’m saying that we need to learn to chase the 48% in there by means of having cultivated them first so those “planned purchases” are of our books, right? Then the 52% NOT planned? — snag them algorithmically.

    Albeit there’s some simplification in how I’m putting this, but can you follow my general reasoning here? Or am I totally off my head? lol

    Do let me hear from you and thanks again, really great, as always to have your input on this.

    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidGaughran David Gaughran

    Hey Porter,

    I’m not saying that the 48% of purchases that are pre-planned (assuming the data is correct and reported accurately) aren’t worth chasing. I’m saying they are much harder to get. Going after them is a lot more expensive and/or a lot more time consuming. It’s much more of a scatter-gun approach.

    Part of the reason I’m suggesting targeting the 52% – the “stumble-upon” purchases – is all those people are in one place. That makes marketing simpler for so many reasons. Another important part is that they are in the mood for buying, unlike most of those having conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or elsewhere where any kind of marketing can be perceived (rightly) as an intrusion.

    It’s the equivalent of the front table in Barnes & Noble versus combing the mall looking for readers.

    The great thing about all this for self-publishers (and small presses), is that digital co-op doesn’t get divvied up in some secret auction between the largest publishers, reserved exclusively for name authors. Instead, much of it is up for grabs in a weird form of sales-related meritocracy.

    To bring this full circle (at least in my head) that’s part of the reason why self-publishers do so much better with e-books, and most of the reason why they do so much better on Amazon – who reserve much less of this virtual co-op, this visibility, for the large publishers than their competitors do.

    Amazon’s core philosophy is different. They always seek to show you the book you are most likely to purchase – whether that book is published by Penguin, me, or one of their own imprints, and whether that book costs $14.99 or 99c. They don’t care if they make a smaller cut in *this* sale, because they know that if you trust the recommendations (which you are more likely to do if they don’t rig the game), you will spend more over the long run.

    It’s the same approach Google used to dominate search – a battle I’m sure Amazon was watching – but it springs from an old adage: give the customer what they want.

    Dave

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  • http://twitter.com/DavidGaughran David Gaughran

    In case the above (esp. the last part) seems like a bit of a leap, I set out my thoughts in a more detailed manner in a blog post today: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/amazons-recommendation-engine-trumps-the-competition/

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

    @twitter-287409342:disqus

    Hey, David,

    Sorry again to be a little slow getting back to you, it’s been a very heavy week of multi-conference follow-ups and travel.

    I take your point very seriously here, and I wouldn’t argue with you for a minute that when it comes to selling, Amazon is the best place for writers. I’ve been a fan all along — which, of course, has honked off a lot of folks in the industry! the industry! — but you’re doing a really good job of explaining just why Seattle provides such a rich marketplace for authors.

    I’m glad to have your new piece on the topic, too, I’d spotted that earlier today and have already started tweeting it.

    I don’t think we’re in any way at odds here. The opening of “the front table” to everyone by Amazon is exactly right. The potential is huge. I agree that Amazon is the marketplace for authors (and I’m looking forward to Let’s Get Visible, too, let me know when it’s ready.)

    What I’m interested in is less the sale mechanism of Amazon, with which you’re so familiar and adept, and more the nature of an author’s writing and the relationship readers have to that work and that author. I don’t think the power that Amazon puts into writers’ hands in any way mitigates the huge value of the relationship of author to reader. And, in fact, I think the better an author is, the more richly he and his readers/buyers are able to leverage Amazon to both find books and customers and to find each other as artists and patrons.

    My interest is in what’s in the book. And if 48% are heading in to Amazon knowing what they want, I want them to want good writing that they’ve been told about, if possible, “on the outside” before they even get there. Then, the 52% are, I hope, going to be trackable enough for Amazon’s systems to pull off some of those uncanny recommendations of that good work. (It has done this for me — I’ve truly discovered new work that the algorithms were able to tell I’d be interested in.)

    I think I’d say don’t confuse Suw Charman-Anderson’s position with mine. The effect may be the same — I recommend authors develop followings if they can so buyers will know them before heading to Amazon to buy them. But my purpose in this is because I’m here for the work, the writing, the artistry that goes into it.

    I’m here for literature. I want that literature to sell. If it sells because an algorithmic movement got it right, I’m delighted. But I’d also like that reader to be informed, beforehand if possible, to know what that work is, not just to be roaming around and have good recommendations fall on him.

    I’m all for sales, all for business, all for numbers, and all for Amazon’s astounding capacity to render a path to discovery. But for me the main point is still what is being discovered. I want readers to be conscious of what they like and don’t, to know their authors, not just brands. I want the art to be the reason they’re there and the reason they sell.

    So I’m fine for you to wait until those folks get inside Amazon, because I know your concentration is on the genius of the system, and I share your admiration for it and look forward to learning more about it from you.

    But I will never be happy just to know that a lot of books moved to a lot of people with fewer gatekeeper barriers than in the old world thanks to Amazon.

    No, I won’t be happy until the people who found those books learn and grow and change and develop because they read them. To that end? It behooves me to try to raise the consciousness of readers before they ever get into The Sprawl, of what they’re looking for and why they like it.

    This will make the algorithms even better, of course, be cause the 48% may actually be smarter about its planned purchases than it has been.

    Couldn’t be happier about the Amazonian marketplace. i’m right with you.

    What I want to know is what happens to the minds and hearts of the readers that Amazon helps hook up with the right material? To that end, no I don’t see audience cultivation as a waste of time, nor do I want to leave it entirely to the algorithms to do the job of selling.

    I want our readers to start thinking, not just be the beneficiaries of superb mechanized guesswork.

    Make sense?

    Thanks again,

    -p.

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