WRITING ON THE ETHER: Cleans Up

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey


Prophecy by J.F. PennProphecy by J.F. Penn

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The prophecy in Revelation declares that a quarter of the world must die and now a shadowy organization has the ability to fulfill these words. Can one woman stop the abomination before it’s too late?

Find out more on Amazon and download a sample to your Kindle.


Table of Contents

  1. DoJ Statement: Self-Publishing Cleans Up Well
  2. DoJ and Self-vs.-Traditional Publishing: A Coda / Gardner
  3. DoJ Statement: Wider Coverage
  4. DoJ Statement: O’Leary reads Schumer – ‘Maddening’
  5. Author Solutions: Extra Ether Report
  6. Harlequin Lawsuit: Quick Info
  7. Big Prizes: The Man Booker Long List / Singh
  8. eBook Prices: Panel Derision / Leather
  9. Money: More 2011 Trade Sales Numbers / Cader
  10. Craft: Mysteries of the Serial Kind / Craig
  11. Craft: Prompts and Poetry / Friedman, Gonzalez
  12. Craft: Your greatest asset / Simone
  13. Language: Until We Can Record the Future…
  14. Bradbury: 1book140 in August
  15. Books: Reading on the Ether
  16. Last Gas: Quantifying Community / Dyson, Ingram

DoJ Statement: Self-Publishing Cleans Up Well

Hm, did something just change? Things feel different to you at all? Maybe it’s just me. High on the E-gas again.

No, wait, there it is again. Hear it? Sounds so civil … thoughtful … polite … considered … articulate … businesslike … professional … mature … like a latter-day “when in the course of human events” … naaaaah, can’t be.

But there it is again. Get a snootful of this:

When prices of media are high, they’re a barrier to entry. Many are avoiding buying an ereader because the ebooks they most want are $9.99 – $14.99. If prices came down, more Kindles (and Kobo readers and Nooks and Sony readers) would be sold. That widens the market, which leads to more ebook sales. This is good for authors, and for readers who can get more for their money.

Never mind whether you agree with that line of thinking. Hold your blow darts. Instead, I want you to guess who said it.

I’ll give you a little more. This is so What’s My Line? I can’t stand it, but you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, so never mind that.

I write a popular blog, notable in the industry for its contrary opinions.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennNotable in the industry for its contrary opinions?

Contrary opinions?

What, did they reissue Little Lord Fauntleroy? [Cue harpsichord]

That “popular blog” is more “notable in the industry” for:

  • putting the screamin’ meemies into everybody who gets within 50 picas;
  • making attractive women curse and strong men cry;
  • whipping up half the self-described “indie” camp into something that might have inspired William Golden to think about flies on an island.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennThe “popular blog” is called:

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and I’m including four recent blog posts to underscore some of the points I make above, and the structural problems in the publishing industry as they relate to the DOJ suit.

Can it be? The same guy? All underscoring and including and structural-problems-as-they-relate?

Yes, Ethernaut, that’s Joe Konrath in his letter to the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) in support of its proposed antitrust settlement with three of the Big Six publishers.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Konrath

J.A Konrath

He has shucked off his trademark rabble-rouser J.A. Konrath drag. And what a sensible figure he cuts when he’s not playing to the groundlings, huh? In fact, his numbers are more imposing when laid out without rancor:

I’m writing to you as the author of forty-six books–eight legacy published, two Amazon published (with three more on the way), and thirty-six self-published, all of which inform the views I express in this letter.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the four posts he mentions for the edification of Justice. In this post, headlined The Agency Model Sucks (that’s the Joe we know and don’t love), he’s addressing readers who may fear an Amazonian future:

You shouldn’t worry about being eaten by a lion tomorrow when there is currently a pit viper biting you in the ass. And if you’re defending the pit viper, you’re an idiot.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennAnd now here he is, knowing that the lords and ladies on Pennsylvania Avenue are unused to such poetics — even in the most amici of curiae — explaining to them that his Newbie’s Guise is just that:

The language I’ve used to rebuke these agents is the language I use on my blog, which is casual, coarse, and accusatory. I mention this just so you’ll know that despite what I think is justifiable anger at the industry practices which I believe betray authors and harm readers, I recognize there’s a difference in the kind of tone one can use in a blog and the kind one ought to use in a letter like this one.

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In a thorough departure from the daily ‘tude, our normally Kon-wrathful one, in fact, makes his points to the DoJ with finesse and without the hostility that can turn his best comments into a sneer.

Here’s an example of his perspective in his DoJ letter (PDF), emphasis mine:

Though it is my understanding that the goal of the DOJ’s suit is to protect consumers, it is my belief that the group most harmed by the actions of the publishing cartel is writers, who have been forced to accept onerous, often unconscionable contract terms without recourse. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, and the Authors Guild, which purportedly defend the rights of writers, in fact work for the publishers. For decades, thousands of writers have been exploited by a powerful industry that universally offers nonnegotiable, one-sided terms, which have gone unchallenged.

And Konrath isn’t alone. (I wasn’t just hearing voices, you see?)

I’m sure you will have already received plenty of letters regarding the terms of the proposed settlement; I would like to apologize at the outset for adding to the pile.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

David Gaughran

That generous opener is from fedora-ed author David Gaughran, who posted his letter to the DoJ at his site before sending it, under the headline An Open Letter to the DOJ from Someone Who Actually Cares About Writers (and Readers).

While he writes that he hadn’t anticipated it serving as a kind of a petition, Gaughran was approached by 186 colleagues either in comments or in email: they wanted to have their names appended to his letter. And so it is that his letter is listed by DoJ as “Gaughran et al.”

Unlike some of the publishers named in the suit, I’m not part of a major media conglomerate that owns newspapers and television stations around the globe. I’m a one-man operation who set up a publishing company to release my own books.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennThat’s what’s compelling about these messages to the DoJ from self-publishing authors. Here is Gaughran distinguishing his stance from that of organized efforts:

Vocal resistance is to be expected…One such group are best-sellers like Scott Turow, the President of the Authors Guild — an organization that claims to represent the interests of writers. Another such group are literary agents like Gail Hochman, the President of the Association of Authors’ Representatives — an organization of literary agents, which also claims to represent the interests of writers. To be clear, neither organization speaks for me.

These comments got through.

The DoJ statement specifically calls out an assertion in Konrath’s letter, writing:

Joe Konrath, author of 46 books, clarifies that letter-writing campaigns by the Authors Guild and the Authors Representatives “did not solicit the views of their members, that they in no way speak on behalf of all or even most of their members.”

And Justice mentions Gaughran specifically, as well:

Many comments from self-published authors, in particular, expressed appreciation that Amazon opened a path to publication that was immune from Publisher Defendants’ hegemony. David Gaughran, writing on behalf of 186 self-published co-signors, writes that “Amazon is creating, for the first time, real competition in publishing” by charting a “viable path” for self-published books.

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When the DoJ made its 64-page “stay the course” statement available Monday in response to the 868 comments filed about the proposed ebook pricing settlement with HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, only some 70 of the more than 800 letters were supportive of the settlement the government has proposed.

And naturally, the overwhelming bulk of the news coverage went to the majority critics of the proposal.

That’s why I felt it might be good to point out that among the writers of those 70 favorable opinions — and in the signed support of others like the 186 behind Gaughran’s statement — we have heard something new.

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These are voices and opinions of disparate entrepreneurs, solo operatives, independent authors. And however put out with them the establishment members may be at times, these non-aligned writers landed some palpable input in this official exercise. These messages were organized, calmly expressed, made without expletives or anger — and they got across.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennIt looks to me as if the self-publishing crowd did itself proud this time. And even if it means putting aside our respective opinions of the DoJ action to observe this, each of us needs to recognize that these folks found a seat at the table for non-traditional publishing.

As the DoJ wrote:

..Mr. Gaughran observes that “[t]he kind of disruption caused by the Internet is often messy,” and those who “do quite well under the status quo” naturally resist change.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennI’m inclined to give the last word here to Konrath. And I’m glad I took the time to search out his letter in the DoJ compendium to see how he handled this.

If he can find a way to address issues in the self-publishing community as he’s done this time — without the fume-‘n’-foam shtick, which only alienates some of the support self-publishing needs — then he’ll play a more progressive role in a situation that could use some effective leadership.

Look at the snap and provocative grace of his phrasing when he leaves the snarl  behind and instead — to paraphrase the scriptures — heaps hot logic upon their heads:

Amazon has not destroyed competition. In fact, it is the only company encouraging it.

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DoJ and Self-vs.-Traditional Publishing: A Coda / Gardner

I know publishers are still making traditional advance/royalty deals, they’re still printing paper books, and they’re still taking a year or more to get a book out. I don’t know how long this will continue.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennCan an Ether item have a coda? You bet it can.

What agent Rachelle Gardner is trying to get across in Knowing What We Don’t Know is that we all need to keep quieting the natural impulses we may feel to try to see a solution, an answer, an end, an outcome when, in fact, none of that exists.

In some ways, the entire publishing industry is still operating “business as usual.” Most of us have years or decades of experience behind us. We know things. Based on our experiences from the past, we’re reasonably accurate at making predictions for the future and making decisions accordingly.

But look at the tremors sent though the industry by such events as the DoJ action. Needless to say, trying to advise each other during all this is fruitless, and exhausting. Being honest about the widening, deepening questions will become more important before it becomes less. Gardner:

We’re often speaking from a limited amount of personal experience, a bit of evidence/data, and a lot of our instinct based on years in the business. But it’s a mistake if we fail to acknowledge what we don’t know, and instead act like we “know” what we’re talking about.

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DoJ Statement: Wider Coverage

The overarching theme of Justice’s response is clear: they see their job as ensuring that consumers pay the lowest possible price for individual ebooks: “Critical comments generally were submitted by those who have an interest in seeing consumers pay more for e-books, and hobbling retailers that might want to sell e-books at lower prices.”

Michael Cader

That’s Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch, offering one of the most extensive goings-over of the government’s statement, I commend it to you. Cader’s headline focuses on the apparent imbalance of opinion that reached the DoJ: Though 92 Percent of Comments Oppose Settlement, Justice Is Unmoved.

And he takes the step, unique among journalists I’ve read on the story, of giving you the “five common themes” the Department of Justice identifies in the big bag of mail it received. As Cader enumerates, they are:

  1. Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennThe legality of restoring discount authority to retailers
  2. The economic impact on industry participants of restoring discount authority to retailers
  3. The viability of collusive pricing as a defense against perceived monopolization and/or predatory pricing
  4. Collusive pricing as protection from free riding and low-cost competition
  5. The clarity and breadth of the proposed Final Judgment

Sorting through the various highlights of the 64-page statement (PDF) — regardless of your position on the proposed settlement — you’re likely to find one or another comment or perspective helpful in clarifying the nature of the lawsuit and government’s view. You don’t have to agree with it to learn from it, in other words. It’s instructive reading in any case.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennFor example, here, from the DoJ’s statement, is what may be the clearest lay-out yet of the DoJ’s insistence that its target is not agency pricing. I’m on Page 25 of the statement:

As a preliminary matter, the proposed Final Judgment does not impose a business model on the e-book industry….Even Settling Defendants, whose agency contracts were the product of the conspiracy, are not permanently barred from using the agency model. For two years, however, Settling Defendants cannot prohibit retailers from discounting e-books.

The goal of that two-year ban on agency, the government says, is to stop publishers from creating new agency-pricing contracts that extend the effects of what the DoJ alleges was conspiracy, collusion.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Jim Milliot

And as to that alleged collusion, as Jim Milliot writes in DoJ Reviews Comments, Says E-book Deal to Go Ahead at Publishers Weekly:

The DoJ response showed little interest in comments from Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, the ABA and the Authors Guild that the “collusive limits” were a necessary response to Amazon’s anticompetitive behavior.

In fact, writes Dan Cullen for the American Booksellers Association in DoJ Unmoved by Public Comments:

Despite the level of opposition, DOJ stated that it has determined that “the proposed Final Judgment, as drafted, provides an effective and appropriate remedy for the antitrust violations alleged” and that it is “therefore in the public interest.”

Perennial Amazon critic Dennis Johnson of Melville House headlines his write You’re all in on it, says the DOJ: Lawsuit to go forward.

He terms the Justice Department’s statement “a presentation with holes in its logic large enough to be staggering,” if not to drive a white whale through.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennWhat’s more, Johnson takes a dim view of citations of self-publishing authors’ participation, referring to it as “bizarre and off-topic, to boot.” He goes on to interpret a dark and perverse motivation behind Justice’s action:

Beyond the conflation of a publisher not wanting to publish someone’s book with a vindictive and censorious — and completely imaginary — prevention program aimed at amateurs, and beyond the strange lapses in internal logic, and beyond the selective readings of antitrust law, the DOJ’s latest prosecution of its case clarifies something more deeply unsettling about the suit: that it seems animated by a vicious concept of capitalism above all else, a capitalism where the “technology giants” are granted the role of righteous protector of the people, and where the artifacts of art and free speech are valued only by a price devoid of actual cost, let alone cultural worth.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Julie Bosman

Let that chill get on down your spine, as Julie Bosman in the Times writes:

While the government received some comments in support of its action and others opposing it, “Critical comments generally were submitted by those who have an interest in seeing consumers pay more for e-books, and hobbling retailers that might want to sell e-books at lower prices,” the statement said.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Benedicte Page

And Benedicte Page at TheBookseller, sums up the DoJ’s assessment of “the Amazon argument” in DoJ rejects B&N/Authors Guild objections to settlement:

The Authors Guild had said…(referring to Amazon): “The Justice Department is sanctioning the destructive, anticompetitive campaign of a corporate giant with billions in cash and boundless ambitions.”

The DoJ said: “In the course of its investigation, the United States examined complaints about Amazon’s alleged predatory practices and found persuasive evidence lacking…Even if there were evidence to substantiate claims of ‘monopolization’ or predatory pricing’ they would not be sufficient to justify self-help in the form of collusion.”

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DoJ Statement: O’Leary reads Schumer – ‘Maddening’

Pursuing the DOJ, Schumer mangles reality left, right and center.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Brian O’Leary

So if you’re really enjoying your Summer With the DoJ too much to let go of the topic yet, you owe it to yourself to give a few minutes to Brian O’Leary’s Talking Points of Tuesday. Probably a safe bet that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) isn’t getting off any thank-you notes to O’Leary’s Magellan Media.

Last week, New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, contributed an op-ed piece to the Wall Street Journal asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop its eBook lawsuit. It’s a maddening read.

You have to realize that one of O’Leary’s hallmarks with his blog-a-day commitment in 2012 is a spare style. No bushes are beaten around. No bushes are even in sight.

I know that much of traditional publishing is headquartered in New York, and phone logs would likely confirm that senior staff from various houses have appealed to Schumer’s office for relief from this whole “collusion” thing. Still, the senator could have at least tried to write something that was not a recitation of traditional publishers’ talking points.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

O’Leary is in no mood to give Sen. Chuck a rest. I’m putting some emphasis on a great assertion to keep in mind these days:

Perhaps it’s politically savvy to pretend that “50 Shades of Grey” was miraculously picked out of the slush pile. Certainly it’s easier to believe Scott Turow than confront the fact that something like three times more books are published each year outside of traditional publishing houses.

I’ll let you enjoy for yourself the several intervening paragraphs between that and the conclusion. Pricing, DRM, digital disruption, the senator’s seat on the subcommittee that overseas antitrust issues, it’s all there. And it all comes down to O’Leary’s punch-line-stops-here finish:

Defending higher eBook prices to save the business model of five publishers (three of whom have settled the lawsuit) might feel a bit out of touch, even in a year in which the senator is not running for re-election.

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Author Solutions: Extra Ether Report

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennThe Gershwins apparently were joking with that “Summertime” stuff — “and the living is easy,” right? Maybe for opera characters.

Book people, on the other hand, have had a little too much news lately, not much of it easy to follow, let alone understand.

So in case you need to get up to speed on the news of Pearson, parent of Penguin Books, buying Author Solutions, this will fix you right up — EXTRA ETHER: Publishing vs. Authors?

A lively comments section awaits you, by the way. Here’s Matthew Turner jumping in with both feet:

This whole deal comes off as shady to me. For a big publisher like this to purchase a vanity press, it tells me they either want to take advantage of naive writers (had I the money six years ago, I might have used Author house – That book would have been a travesty to release there and then) or they want to add value to the self publishing market.

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Harlequin Lawsuit: Quick Info

As I was just writing, it’s one of those summers when nobody seems to want to just take a seat and relax.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennAs  you likely know, a class action lawsuit has been announced against Harlequin, alleging that three authors, the plaintiffs, received much less in royalty payments than their agreements with the romance publisher stipulated. Brief comment from the publisher has denied the allegations, saying its authors are properly paid.

Good early writes on this one came from:

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Later writes, also helpful, are from:

I suggest Donna Hayes back up her statement and stand by her words. Immediately, and retroactively, going back to when she was originally hired by Harlequin, she should take a 91% salary cut. Who cares what other publishing CEOs make annually? If Harlequin is fair in paying its authors 91% less than the rest of the industry, it should pay its executives accordingly.

That’s our Joe.

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Big Prizes: The Man Booker Long List / Singh

The Man Booker Prize longlist has snubbed the “old guard” with Rose Tremain, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis failing to make the cut.

And they’re all stuck in Olympics traffic, too.

The UK’s big literary deal, the Man Booker,  won’t name a short list until 9/11. (Don’t look at me, they chose that date — they’re British, you know.) And the winner is named October 16.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennYou know what’s odd? Anita Singh’s story in the Telegraph states the dates that way — September 11 and October 16. Not 11 September and 16 October. What kind of Brit is she, anyway? (Her Twitter handle is @AnitaTheTweeter, what can I say?)

We’ll just have to overlook that departure from the native time-keeping norm over there. What’s harder to get past is Singh’s headline: Man Booker Prize long list snubs Amis, McEwan and Smith — I mean, how is that in any way decent to the 12 authors who are on the long list?

Here they are, though I warn you, they’re not all easily available here in the Colonies, and it’s not entirely a Kindle-friendly list, either.

In fact, that’s something Our Friends in Seattle could do to win some affection, you know — get jiggy with these publishers and get this superb long list Kindled-up. Sara Nelson, you reading this?

And on the upside, there are four debut novelists here: Joyce, Moore, Thayil, and Thompson. How cool is that?

Don’t care about the Booker yet? Before you go, check out this shot from the Telegraph story of the five judges.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Left to right, the 2012 Man Booker Prize judges are Bharat Tandon, Dinah Birch, Sir Peter Stohard, Amanda Foreman, and Dan Stevens. Photo: The Telegraph.

Judge on the right. Dan Stevens. Plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. We may see an uptick in PBS viewers reading Man Booker nominees this year while they wait for Season 3.

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eBook Prices: Panel Derision / Leather

What surprised me was how the audience seemed so set against cheap ebooks. Rather than taking my view that books are best sold at a price that readers find attractive, the general feeling of the audience seemed to be that books were already – as one man said – ‘cheap as chips’ while Norwegians had to pay £40 for one of Jo Nesbo’s books.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey

Stephen Leather

It’s author Stephen Leather, just back from Appearing At Harrogate – The Plot Thickens, otherwise known as Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival last weekend.

Writes Leather:

When I explained that I had sold half a million ebooks last year, most of them for less than a quid, I was surprised to hear a few boos and hisses rather than the applause that I had expected.

As it happens, the Harrogaters, it seems, are working hard to avoid discount book pricing and Leather was set up — in a friendly way — to generate some buzz for the fest by going on about his ideas of piracy (a little is helpful), DRM (none is helpful), and those low prices. Got himself called a “tosser!” at one point.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton AbbeyParticularly funny in this good-natured write is Leather’s description of the publisher’s association misunderstanding how he writes, prices, and markets his books. She triumphantly aced him with, “So you’re happy to work for 5p a day, are you?” — a complete misreading of what Leather had described of his income and productivity. As he puts it, he could conceivably be making £3,000 a day. “And that’s probably more than she gets paid.”

Underlying this engaging write, however, is a striking mirror image of the factions and fears you can see in play at conferences and festivals in the States, as well. There’s a lot to be done just in understanding pricing in the digital context, let alone in getting a once-unified industry to being thinking in terms of diverse approaches and simultaneous models.

For his part, Leather was undeterred.

Oh, and I pretty much finished Inspector Zhang Goes To Harrogate. Much as I’d like the victim to be an overweight agent with badly-dyed hair, it’s an author who meets an untimely end. And yes, I’ll be selling it at 72p.

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 Money: More 2011 Trade Sales Numbers / Cader

In our last Ether, we were able to give you some of the material released by BookStats — from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) — via the reporting of Michael Cader and Peter Kafka.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennCader at Publishers Lunch now follows up, as promised, with “deeper coverage of our own of their (BookStats’) ‘extrapolations’ of revenue shifts across trade publishing.” That premium service, still new to the industry, had released more detailed background data to its institutional subscribers, giving Cader and others a more complex look at the markets.

Interestingly, in referencing an outstanding question around the DoJ case, Cader notes that these statistics indicate average ebook prices are headed downward:

In 2011, the first full year of agency pricing, the average publisher price for an ebook was $6.62, 8 percent lower than the year before (a drop over over 50 cents). In the biggest category–adult fiction–the average publisher ebook price was even lower; $6.24 a unit, down over 9.5 percent from 2010.

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In the long watch as ebooks gain traction, Cader writes:

Across the trade, ebooks are the third largest category by dollar volume and by units. They accounted for 16 percent of dollar sales, and 14 percent of unit sales. At the end of the day–as usual–trade sales of $12.519 billion were basically flat.

Here is Cader’s charting of the 2011 analysis of trade segments, first in revenue, then in unit sales:

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey

Charting of BookStats figures by Michael Cader, Publishers Lunch.

There’s more in Cader’s report, A Closer Look at What BookStats Says About the Trade (It’s Still Flat).

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 Craft: Mysteries of the Serial Kind / Craig

I’ve seen income as high as several months at about $1700 monthly income for one title.

I’ve seen it as low as $350 ,total, one month for two titles.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey

Elizabeth S. Craig

In case you haven’t followed her, cozy mystery series writer Elizabeth Spann Craig (in some cases writing as Riley Adams) has been doing some candid, nuts-and-bolts work in her blog about her experiences in traditional and self-publishing.

For example, in A Few Self-Publishing Thoughts and Discoveries, she explains how her self-published titles ride the tides of Amazon almost without her intervention , though she has learned that without monthly checks on them, she can end up with one of those low-total months.

I don’t do any advertising. I don’t have time to mess a lot with the price or to put well-placed ads on reader-oriented sites. I haven’t done cool things like teasers for the next book in the series at the end of each book. I don’t tweet or Facebook my books. I don’t force Amazon to list books for free by having them run free on Smashwords. I haven’t blog-toured during these releases or held giveaways or run contests. Basically, I’m not doing any of the things I’m supposed to be doing, as a smart self-published author, because I’m always scrambling to hit my deadlines.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton AbbeyIn fact, considering how frequently we all encounter the question, “How will an introverted writer handle all these new marketing duties,” it’s refreshing to read Craig say:

I just do exactly what you see me do—blog, tweet, update Google +, and use Facebook (although I don’t Facebook much). These promotional things that I do are usually focused on writers, not readers. I’m a little shy with readers.

And:

I’m frequently completely puzzled by my results–both good and bad. This week, I saw Dyeing Shame go to #7 on the Amazon women sleuths chart…Yeah, it was priced at $.99 to get attention….but it had been at that price for a couple of months. I have absolutely no idea what made the thing suddenly jump up the chart like that.

Reassuring, straightforward work, as is Craig’s What Traditional Publishers Offer — and What They Don’t.

Craig’s blog work is never as genre-specific as you might expect. It’s easy to apply her insights to many scenarios.

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Craft: Prompts and Poetry / Friedman, Gonzalez

 

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey

Jane Friedman

VQR’s Jane Friedman, host of the Ether and, many times, Porter’s Brain, has put together 5 Remarkable Writing Prompt & Exercise Books with a bit of commentary on each.

I’ve added them to Reading on the Ether below, and in Friedman’s post, you can about  The Pocket Muse’s  “vivid images and playful design“; “brainstorming nonfiction ideas” and 3 A.M. Epiphany & 4 A.M. Breakthrough; What If? is recommended in its original 1991 edition; The Writer’s Idea Book is out in a 10th anniversary edition from Writer’s Digest; and The Practice of Poetry is “another one that…doesn’t go out of style.”

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And speaking of poetry:

Willard Spiegelman nails the underlying problem with poetry in general, though he seems to imply it’s a flaw related more to a poet’s level of experience with form rather than an inherent flaw in poetry in general, but especially that written for the page: “When a poet has fulfilled all the formal schematic requirements, she may have composed a sonnet, but not necessarily an interesting poem.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Dan Stevens, Man Booker, Downton Abbey

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

This is Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, “Loudpoet” to some of us who know him, in The Unbearable Stiffness of Formal Poetry and Writing for the Page, exploring his own relationship to poetry; its Louder years of poetry slams onstage (I’m always amused at these violent names we have for literary occasions); and quieter periods of dwindling interest until he “can’t bear to attend a poetry reading for longer than 30 minutes without comparing everything I hear to the poets I came up with, usually not favorably.”

And yet.

All that being said, whenever I think about myself in a publishing role and all of the possible genres and/or communities I might focus on, I’ll be damned if more than half the time it doesn’t come back to poetry!


On he goes, in his relationship with that art that lives “on the periphery of our culture.”

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Craft: Your greatest asset / Simone

Your greatest business asset is your audience … the people you hope to serve with your business.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Sonia Simone

In her post at Copyblogger, How to Protect Your Business’s Most Important Asset (No, It’s Not Your Website) Sonia Simone makes you wait longer than I did to find out what your greatest business asset is.

But then she goes on to give you a range of options and ideas to channel your valuation of that audience into the proper pecking order of your assets.

You can grow an audience by:

  1. Making an ass of yourself,
  2. Publishing sleazy pageview-obsessed schlock, or
  3. Producing valuable content that accumulates over time into an asset that helps your audience meet their goals.

All three will draw a crowd. But #3 is the only one you can build a healthy business around.

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When all around you are platforming for their lives — and insisting you do the same — it might be comforting to have someone give you the chance to “think carefully about what you want to be known for.” That’s a step easily missed in the heat of digital access and the rush to publish.

Here are seven steps from Simone worth going over. Some you know. Most seem self-evident. Few are actually taken and mastered by most of us. As she says:

If you aren’t listening to your audience, you’re missing out on at least half the benefit of having an audience.

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Language: Until We Can Record the Future…

I’m looking at a “bug” on some Olympics coverage. What there is of the coverage, that is, between the weepy institutional sponsor commercials. (“Every time a flag falls at the finish line…” the strings swell up and the video gets gauzy, you know how it goes.)

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennThis bug on the screen says RECORDED EARLIER. You’re going to see it a lot in the coming weeks, London being five hours out ahead of us Easterners, despite our every effort to catch up.

You know what’s wrong with that bug, right? Redundancy.

If it’s recorded, it was recorded earlier. Until our technology makes it possible for us to say something was RECORDED LATER — and think about how tricky that’s going to be — we need to watch out for the obvious. Because if you miss it, your readers (or your viewers) won’t.

I’m looking at you, NBC Sports. “RECORDED,” nothing more, is all you need.

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Bradbury: 1book140 in August

If you were left realizing you hadn’t read enough Ray Bradbury when the author died last month, check in with The Atlantic’s 1book140 reading club.

Until Friday (27 July) at 5p ET, writes Eleanor Barkhorn, you can get in on nominations for which book or short-story collection you’d like the group to read in August:

We’ll post the shortlist and begin voting on Monday, July 30th, then close voting on Wednesday, August 1st, and begin reading/discussing on Monday, August 6th.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

For an updated list of planned confabs, please see this Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com. Note that the upcoming F+W Media conferences now have extended Early Bird rates into mid-August — it’s not too late, after all, to get the best prices.

In addition to the 2012 Man Booker Prize nominees mentioned above, the books you see in our Flash graphic and in the list that follows have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. Remember to read as well as write.


 


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Last Gas: Quantifying Community / Dyson, Ingram

I predict (and am trying to foster) the emergence of a Quantified Community movement, with communities measuring the state, health, and activities of their people and institutions, thereby improving them. Just consider: each town has its own schools, library, police, roads and bridges, businesses, and, of course, people. All of them potentially generate a lot of data, most of it uncollected and unanalyzed. That is about to change.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Esther Dyson

In a time of collapsing local newspapers and scandals about falsely created “hyper-local” news coverage (I’m linking you here to Mathew Ingram’s authoritative work at GigaOM), it’s especially interesting to read Esther Dyson describe The Quantified Community at Project Syndicate.

As people and communities use such tools (she describes, quickly, new and emerging data-gathering technologies), more and better ones will be created, and developers will start mashing data together, enabling us to see, for example, the relationship between people’s exercise habits and local health statistics.

I first became aware of Dyson’s work in entrepreneurial leadership on an array of digital initiatives years ago, when I learned of her efforts in Moscow to get computer experience into sales settings among people young enough to really run with it.

And here, in fact, she mentions the Open Project Foundation in Moscow, and its Antropolis mapping scheme for development projects on the local scene. But:

Many institutions are unlikely to provide the necessary data at first. But the data do exist, and most of it could be made available if it were demanded vigorously enough.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennAnd yet, better than ironically — holding out real hope, instead — Dyson looks straight at the local newspaper world in the context of Quantified Community:

One institution capable of leading the way is local newspapers, many of which are searching for a new business model and a new source of unique content. They have the connections, the resources, and the respect to play a key role.

Dyson goes on to elaborate how advertising, paid analysis and studies, all could play into revenue streams for local news organizations able to parlay that proverbial “finger on the pulse” into a renewed heartbeat for journalism.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Mathew Ingram

This is a good read, a concept in its early days, yes, but ripe for a carefully designed test in settings of real need and potential. There are many of those these days.

A world of publishing so relentlessly tugged apart by our own digital disruptions — and learning the value of data, big and small, as a means of survival — surely could be both an assist and a beneficiary of such developments.

Dyson:

Despite the pending demise of print journalism, local papers still generally reach more local citizens than any other single institution. They need a way to remain relevant; this could be it.

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Main image: iStockphoto / martyw


Prophecy by J.F. PennProphecy by J.F. Penn

A Kindle bestseller in Action/Adventure and Religious Fiction

The prophecy in Revelation declares that a quarter of the world must die and now a shadowy organization has the ability to fulfill these words. Can one woman stop the abomination before it’s too late?

Find out more on Amazon and download a sample to your Kindle.



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Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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23 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Cleans Up"

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Friend Grief
It’s too early to wrap my head around the DoJ read, Porter, but I want to share something I heard yesterday about ebook pricing. I was watching “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and Graham Nash (of Crosby Stills Nash and sometimes Young) was a guest. I don’t remember what triggered it, but they began talking about ebooks. “Why should I pay $11.99 for an ebook when the delivery system costs nothing?” He went on, I believe, to talk about the music industry (which has its own pricing and rights issues). Honestly, I’ve had the same reaction when searching for an ebook… Read more »
Friend Grief
I forgot to mention that the pricing issue is on my mind these days, as i decide on the price for print and electronic versions of my book. I’d like that decision to be mine, which is why I’m self-publishing. I’d also like the “free” option to be my decision and not someone else’s. As a consumer, I’m annoyed when print and electronic are the same price. As a soon-to-be publisher, I’m inclined to keep the electronic version’s price lower. I think a lot of people – and this is not a criticism – are now used to low/free ebook… Read more »
Porter Anderson
No, discriminating is good. And rising prices can help in that direction. On the other hand, see David Mark Brown’s comment and my response above on this same tortured Ether, lol. David is making a very canny point (one that Mike Shatzkin has warned us about, too) that when agency falls — albeit just on the first 3 majors first — some inventory will start pricing lower, and thus closer to that low-price spot many self-publishers have enjoyed as “theirs.” In short, a low price (or free) will no longer necessarily be undercutting your competition. Thus, distinguishing the work in… Read more »
Friend Grief

Thanks, Porter, I thought you’d like the “discriminating” thoughts. I may well be diving in, but I have no intention of heading for the bottom of the pool, price-wise. Discerning, huh?
I’ll pass on the Campari, though. I’m an Absolut kind of gal, of which I was reminded yesterday when I explained to my soon-to-be-college-freshman daughter the way to order a martini. Totally forgot to add “a good martini is always shaken to waltz time.” Mea culpa.

Porter Anderson

I’ve done OK with a few bossa-shaken Martinis, and once a conga-line shaking worked out well. I like the Martini umbrellas best.

Friend Grief

Umbrellas in martinis??? I weep.

Porter Anderson

No, no, no, the big umbrellas you sit under in cafes. They are from Martini & Rossi. Good God, not in the Martini, it’s in me before you can get one of those poodle umbrellas in it. I drink nothing with an umbrella in it.

Porter Anderson
While I agree that ebooks that match the cost of hardcover are difficult to understand, I personally don’t like seeing ebook prices fall much below $10. It’s not the paper or even the warehousing and crap people need to give you money for. It’s your Seagram’s supply. I mean your hard work. It’s what authors put into their work. This is what readers not only need to be reminded about but also need to be reassured about. I sound perverse so frequently that it doesn’t even signify anymore, but I’m going to do it again: I hate low prices on… Read more »
Bob Mayer

Am I the only one who sees the fundamental flaw in lots of these arguments? They are not backed up by action for those who feel Amazon is the evil empire. All the authors, guilds, publishers, etc. who feel Agency pricing is fine and Amazon is bad, simply need to pull all their titles from Amazon. Immediately. I am sick of seeing people bitch about Amazon while still selling their book there. That’s called hypocrisy and a lack of integrity.
Put you money where your mouth is.

Porter Anderson
Well, if anything, Bob — because you’re right, of course — I think it frankly undermines anyone’s argument to chew off Jeff Bezos’ legs but keep selling at Amazon. And Dennis isn’t the only one, of course, this is seen from time to time. At the very least it looks ungrateful. I tell you, though, I think that what you’d like to see will come about automatically in time. Mike Shatzkin has filed a late piece (“late” for Ether, but I’m trying to update with it), basically accepting the apparent intention of the DoJ to go forward, and starting to… Read more »
Anne R. Allen

I’m glad to see your shout-out for the wonderful Elizabeth Spann Craig. I found her post enlightening. And I’m so glad to know she has comfortable sales without doing all the obnoxious things self-pubbed authors are “supposed” to do. She quietly establishes her brand, maintains a helpful presence on Twitter, FB and Google+ and the books get found. Nice.

Sorry I can’t tweet the Ether today. Twitter seems to be having one of its periodic melt-downs.

Porter Anderson

Indeed, Twitter went into a definite swoon for a while, but is back now. (Second time in, what, a month?) Thanks for the great comments, and yes, Elizabeth is a wonder. She’s writing multiple series at once AND raising a family. I’m in awe, and also relieved to know she’s not out there beating the cyber-pavement for sales, I agree. 🙂
Thanks for coming, and the great comment. Don’t let me miss Terrence Stamp at your blog, really looking forward to it!
-p.

David Mark Brown
So what about the self-pubbed author who hasn’t established a name yet? Am I missing something here? Or won’t the DoJ decision eliminate the price gap (between $0.99 and $9.99) that self-pubbers have taken advantage of to get noticed? When prices of eBooks inevitably fall, thousands of (undiscovered) indie authors will no longer be able to tempt readers away from more expensive titles with their $2.99-$4.99 price tag. It seems to me indie authors have the most to lose in this entire deal (unless you have already been able to take advantage of the turmoil). So neither the authors’ guild… Read more »
Susan

That’s what occurred to me, too. But we don’t hear from the self-pubbers that don’t have an established name, do we. We only hear from the successful ones, who often have traditional careers in their past. I don’t think the true self-pubbers have much of a voice in all this.

Porter Anderson
Hey, Susan, Yes, and yes, you’re right. Please see my (long) response to David above, and thanks for being so conscious of the “exception confusion” that keeps happening in popular lore around publishing. The Eislers, Hockings, Konraths, Lockes, what’s-her-name with 50 Shades, these folks are all exceptions to the rule, as they’ll be the first to say if you give them a chance. The majority of folks have got to find their way without the thunderbolts of massive good luck, and it’s a harder, more obscure road, for sure. Please see my note to David about metadata. This may be… Read more »
Porter Anderson
David you’re putting your finger on a very good question. And I think that Rachelle Gardner’s post (referenced in the Ether today near the top, http://ow.ly/cwHoV ) comes into play here with a not very happy but truthful answer: We don’t know. There are pundits on all sides who want to tell you that they know what will happen as various scenarios play out (or don’t). The truth is, they don’t know. No one does. The digital disruption is deep and much of what’s ahead is conjecture. You can find an oblique reference (near the end), in fact of Mike… Read more »
David Mark Brown
Thanks for the response, Porter. Alas, I can’t wait it out, seeing how this is what I do for a living. But I agree on the importance of metadata (and on the uncertainty of the future). While I have gotten much better with my sales copy and metadata, I’ll be the first to admit I have much to learn. The last year has led to a redefining of my writing trajectory based in large part on a reassessing of the competitive environment. Most of this process has come from observing keyword search hits on my blog and the volatile Amazon… Read more »
Porter Anderson
A great image, your search for tiny blips in the cascading digits of the Matrix, David, that’s about how it shakes out. There are, actually, too many books. I keep going back to the figures Laura Dawson of Bowker has given us: In 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million. Even with some backlist in there, even if there are several editions of one book in there, even with any number of other “even withs” you can add, this is close to absurdism. There are too many books. And… Read more »
David Mark Brown

Too true! It is what I refer to as voodoo. I sort of shake my fingers at the keyboard and hope I get positive results. Sometimes I feel that way with SEO, or Amazon rankings, or a post going viral… But I try to remind myself that there is a small difference between math and voodoo.

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KathyPooler
I’m a little late to The Ether this week,Porter- had a hard time wrapping my head around all the commotion so I’m back to try to make some sense of it all. Underneath the glimmer of hope for self-publishers in JA Konrath’s statement is the disturbing reality that the DoJ has ignored 92% of people who opposed it while buying into what the bastions of self-publishing like Konrath who are well-established are saying. Where does that leave the rest of us “regular ” people who are yet to be established? It’s all so convoluted and confusing. I posted the Ether… Read more »
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